Alleging that tobacco companies are taking advantage of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs – and interfering with the adoption and implementation of tobacco control measures – anti-tobacco campaigners called for an immediate amendment to the existing tobacco control law.
With a view to continuing the death trade amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, tobacco companies have resorted to a series of cunning tactics including intense lobbying campaigns, grants, CSR programs, spreading misinformation, and other tactics, read a press release from PROGGA, a research and advocacy organisation.
Hasan Shahriar, head of Tobacco Control Project, PROGGA, presented these issues at a webinar titled "Covid-19 and Tobacco Industry," organised by PROGGA, with support from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) on Saturday.
According to the observations of PROGGA, two multinational tobacco companies were able to secure special permission from the Ministry of Industries amid the ongoing pandemic to continue cigarette production, marketing and leaf procurement by presenting cigarettes as an essential item, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning that tobacco products help spread the novel coronavirus and worsen subsequent illness.
As a part of carefully crafted CSR ploys, the companies have been distributing personal protective equipment among law-enforcement agencies and field administration officials, arranging and participating in Facebook Live Talk Shows to promote brand image and spreading misinformation such as that smokers enjoy better protection against Covid-19 due to tobacco addiction.
Vaping traders have become particularly desperate in recent times, aggressively targeting the youth. Campaigns after campaigns are being launched every day, on social media platforms, to spread utter lies and misinformation plus get the youth involved in vaping, read the press release.
Anti-tobacco activists speaking at the program said CSR programs create the scope for unnecessary interactions between tobacco companies, government officials and policymakers.
Speakers at the webinar also called for a total ban on the production, import and marketing of all vaping items including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
Moreover, they stressed the fact that the existence of cigarettes on the list of Essential Products is in conflict with the prime minister's vision for a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040.
They also demanded that the 1956 Essential Products Act be amended to eliminate tobacco products from the list of essential commodities.
Speakers at the webinar included: Bangladesh Country Advisor of Vital Strategies Md Shafiqul Islam, Lead Consultant Bangladesh of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Dr Md Shariful Alam, former coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell and former additional secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, Professor of Economics University of Dhaka and Executive Director of ARK Foundation Dr Rumana Haque, Project Director of Bangladesh Cancer Society Professor Dr Golam Mohiuddin Faruque, and Department Head of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh Professor Dr Sohel Reza Choudhury.
Executive Director of WBB Trust Saifuddin Ahmed, Director of Health and Wash Sectors of Dhaka Ahsania Mission Iqbal Masud, Technical Advisor of The UNION Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam, Executive Director of National Anti-Tuberculosis Association of Bangladesh (NATAB) Mohammad Kamaluddin, Convener of Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote Farida Akhter, Team Leader of the Tobacco Control Program of Bangladesh Center for Communication Program Mohammad Shamimul Islam, Executive Director of VOICE Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Executive Director of Grambangla Unnayan Committee AKM Maksud, and Executive Director of PROGGA ABM Zubair also spoke at the webinar.
Additionally, representatives of the National Tobacco Control Cell and anti-tobacco organisations Prattashya, Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, Aid Foundation, Bangladesh Network for Tobacco Tax Policy, Tobacco Control and Research Cell, YPSA, United Forum Against Tobacco, and Development Activities of Society attended the program.