After jorda, khoyer and gul, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority has now found the presence of heavy metals in cigarettes including locally produced popular brands like Gold Leaf and Benson & Hedges.
Not only does this pose severe health hazards for smokers, it also puts passive smokers at risk.
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the food safety authority tested tobacco used in locally produced Benson, Gold Leaf, Star, Navy, Hollywood, and Derby cigarettes. It found the presence of cancer-causing heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and chromium in the tobacco of all the tested brands.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority has sent a letter, signed by its acting chairman Mahabub Kabir, to the health ministry mentioning that these six cigarette brands contain an excessive amount of heavy metal.
The authority also asked the ministry to determine how harmful it is for smokers and to make people aware of it. It also requested the ministry to investigate how heavy metals have contaminated tobacco.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority tested the tobacco in the laboratories of the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Atomic Energy Centre, and the Waffen Research Lab. All three laboratories found the presence of heavy metals in the samples.
According to the report, all six brands contain 0.49-100.95 grams of lead, 0.41-1.37 grams of cadmium and 0.82-1.49 grams of chromium per kg.
Health experts said heavy metals in cigarettes can cause cancer, heart and liver diseases. However, the most alarming issue is smoking affects passive smokers too.
"Around 4,000 chemicals are used in a cigarette, of which some are directly responsible for causing cancer. We are yet to fix the threats caused by cigarettes. If lead, chromium and other heavy metals are found in cigarettes, it will increase the threats," said Bangladesh Cancer Society Joint Secretary Golam Mohiuddin Faruk.
Cigarette companies said there was no chance of having heavy metals in tobacco as they test it regularly. Tobacco is also exported from Bangladesh.
Sources at health ministry and the Directorate General of Health Services said they have started working on the issue including how to minimise the threats and finding how heavy metals were added to tobacco.
Seeking anonymity, an officer at the health directorate said contaminated soil could have transmitted the metals to tobacco.
"We are yet to receive any letter from the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority. Once we receive the letter, we will fix our next steps," said Aminul Islam, program officer at the National Tobacco Control Cell.
British American Tobacco Bangladesh produces five of the six contaminated cigarette brands. When contacted, the multinational company refused to comment on the matter.