Campaigning for Good Governance (SUPRO) on Thursday demanded the government to withdraw its 9.49 percent share from British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB), terming the investment a contradiction to the Constitution.
SUPRO, a national network of grassroots NGOs in Bangladesh, also said that the investment contradicts the goal set by government to make Bangladesh tobacco free by 2040.
The organisation made the demand during a programme titled "National Dialogue on Tobacco Causes Death, divest shares from Tobacco" at CIRDAP auditorium.
Chairperson of the SUPRO, Abdul Awal presided over the program.
Addressing the event, speakers said that as per the Constitution's article 18(1), the state has the responsibility of developing and protecting public health, but when government itself has share in a tobacco company, it creates contradiction with that article.
Research shows that every year about 1.26 lakh people die premature deaths because of tobacco use and another 2.5 lakh people suffer disabilities, they said, adding that the government cannot be a part of those premature deaths as it is responsible for protecting public health as per the constitution.
Speakers also said that they think the government's share in BATB weakens the legal system in decreasing tobacco use and also encourages the tobacco business.
Bangladesh signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and the ratification in 2004. In 2008, countries that signed the FCTC passed article 5.3 guideline, recommending governments not to invest in the tobacco business.
However, the Bangladesh government still holds share in the BATB, which is alarming, speakers said.
"It is also an obstacle to meet the 17 goals of Sustainable Development Growth (SDG) by 2030 as the FCTC is one of the commitments of the SDG," said Project Coordinator of SUPRO, Zayed Siddiki while addressing the national dialogue.
The national dialogue further revealed that every year tobacco products contributed to around Tk22,000 crore in the country's total GDP in 2018, but the economic cost of the tobacco use that year was about Tk30,000 crore.
"Which indicates that tobacco products cost the country's economy more than what it gives. Which means it is not a profitable business at all," Hamidul Islam Hillol, who works as the project manager of "Tobacco Tax" under Dhaka University's Bureau of Economic Research.
He further said, "We get no health benefits from tobacco. There is nothing positive to promote about this product. Government should withdraw its share from the BATB and it will take Bangladesh one step ahead in becoming a tobacco free country."
Advocate Md Fazle Rabbi Mia, deputy speaker to parliament, was present at the programme as a chief guest with many other journalist leaders, NGO representatives and anti-tobacco campaigners.
Fazle Rabbi Mia said, "To ban tobacco, we need to replace it with another crop. It will be impossible to make Bangladesh tobacco free any other way. We also have to give time to the government to withdraw its share from the BATB. The process will not be easy."
He however assured that he will request to prime minister to withdraw the government's share from BATB step by step.