Tougher anti-tobacco law soon, says minister

Dhaka, Jul 29 (

The Law Minister on Sunday assured anti-tobacco campaigners of plugging the loopholes in the tobacco control law to make it ‘strong’ for public health’s sake.

“I’ll see how we can make it strong and updated so that none can exploit its loopholes,” Shafique Ahmed said at a discussion where voices of tobacco victims were heard.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare started amending the 2005 tobacco control law over two and a half years ago to give it more teeth to deter people from the habit.

A study had showed more than 43 percent Bangladeshis aged 15 and above consume tobacco in some form. Estimates suggest 57,000 people die of tobacco related illness while nearly 300,000 suffer disabilities in Bangladesh.

But it was reported earlier that the Ministry of Finance recalled the draft when the health ministry was about to place it in the Cabinet meeting on Dec 19, 2011.

Health Minister A F M Ruhal Haque acknowledged the fact on May 17 at a function and said the law would be passed after the June budget session.

The Law Minister, however, said he could not understand why it was taking time to pass the draft.

He said after the Cabinet, the law would come back to his ministry and then he would take care of strengthening it. “I am assuring you about it.”

Speaking at the discussion, Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh’s President Quazi Faruk said they were fighting a tough battle against tobacco advocates in Bangladesh.

“It becomes very tough as we are not getting government support.”

President of the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Matthew Myers, who is in Dhaka on a two-day visit, said tobacco killed thousands of lives but ‘we all know how to prevent (them).’

“It (prevention) does not require billions of dollars, only leadership can make the change,” he said, putting forward his views for incorporation in the draft tobacco control law for make it stricter.

He said delaying the process of making the law was endangering the lives in Bangladesh.

Myers said the government had the opportunity to make the law stronger by complying with legal obligations of the WHO-FCTC that Bangladesh ratified.

Not incorporating smokeless tobacco such as zarda, sada pata and gul as tobacco products, no pictorial health warnings covering 50 percent of cigarette packets and not banning smoking in all public places were some of the loopholes he found in the Bangladesh’s law.

He suggested lifting the provision of designated smoke place as he said there was no safe level of smoking.

“There is no place safe to be designated safe area,” he said and added that pictorial warning in the packs was imperative for people who cannot read or understand words.