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B'desh government gives in to tobacco industry
Publication Date : 05-03-2013
Two provisions crucial in controlling tobacco use have been dropped from the final draft of an anti-tobacco law in Bangladesh following hectic lobbying from tobacco companies.
The initial draft contained the provisions for not providing farmers with soft loan or subsidy for tobacco cultivation, and not maintaining smoking zone in smoke-free public places, said sources in the ministries concerned.
The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Bill, 2012 was sent to the parliamentary standing committee in Bangladesh's health ministry yesterday for further scrutiny after it was placed in parliament for passage.
Sources said tobacco companies have been very active in lobbying the ministries to delay the entire process.
The Daily Star talked to the health, finance and agricultural ministers, who said the provisions should have been kept in the final draft considering the steady growth of tobacco cultivation and consumption, and its deadly impact on health.
“I was against the maintaining of smoking zone in smoke-free public places, especially in airports. But many cabinet members disagreed,” said Health Minister AFM Ruhal Haque.
On loan and subsidy to farmers for tobacco cultivation, he said many farmers take loan and cultivate tobacco for profit. “We must give them alternatives and encourage them to cultivate other crops.”
The minister said tobacco companies might have lobbied different ministries to bring changes to the draft. “They are active in every sphere.”
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury recently told The Daily Star, “My ministry wanted to retain the provision of not giving soft loan or subsidy for producing tobacco that absorbs a great amount of nutrient from soil and reduces its fertility.”
She said her ministry decided in principle not to give any loan or subsidy for tobacco cultivation. “We give subsidy for alternative crops.”
When asked about the exclusion of the provision, Matia said other ministries were also involved in the process.
Anti-tobacco campaigners and officials in the health and agriculture ministries pointed their fingers at Bangladesh's finance ministry for making the changes in the draft under the influence of tobacco companies.
However, Finance Minister AMA Muhith claimed he had no idea how the provision for not providing soft loan or subsidy for tobacco cultivation got dropped from the final draft.
“The provision might have been dropped following inter-ministerial meetings,” he said. And the reason could be that tobacco companies now provide credit and subsidy for tobacco cultivation, he added.
Muhith said the draft could be changed in the parliament with the inclusion of necessary provisions.
As the Anti-Tobacco Law, 2005 was deemed insufficient to control tobacco use, the Bangladeshi government in 2010 decided to amend the law. The cabinet in December last year approved the draft.
It also contains provisions for having pictorial warnings on tobacco packs, increasing the number of smoke-free public places, tightening control on tobacco advertisements and sponsorship, and raising fines for violation of tobacco law.
The amended law, however, will not be effective without the two vital provisions, said Taifur Rahman, advocacy and media coordinator of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Bangladesh.
Anti-tobacco campaigners said the exclusion of the provisions will result in an increase in tobacco production and consumption.
There has been a steady rise in tobacco cultivation in the country, as tobacco companies continue to target more and more fertile land.
According to a study by private organisation Ubinig, tobacco was cultivated on 75,880 acres of land in Bangladesh in 2006, and it rose to 183,000 acres in 2010.
Bangladesh is among the five countries that are affected the most by tobacco use. On an average, 165 people die of tobacco-related diseases every day in Bangladesh, according to a study by the World Heath Organization.
The study shows that, at present, the cost of treatment for tobacco-related diseases is double of what the government earns from the tobacco sector.