Positives outweigh negatives in Bangladesh’s amended tobacco control law

10 May 2013

One of the biggest weakness of the previous law was that it did not include smokeless tobacco products, making it difficult to apply legal provisions to the products consumed by a majority of Bangladeshis, including powdered tobacco (gul) and chewing tobacco (jorda and khoinee). The amendment has brought these smokeless tobacco products under the purview of this law so that all regulations will equally apply to smokeless tobacco products.

The Bangladesh Government passed the Smoking and Tobacco Product Usage (Control) Act in 2005 and made it effective in the same year. But due to certain weaknesses, it could not be effectively implemented, limiting the progress of tobacco control in the country. As a result, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in collaboration with civil society organizations supported by the partners of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and the World Health Organization, worked hard to have the law amended.

The amended law makes it compulsory for the tobacco industry to put pictorial health warnings on packaging of all tobacco, covering half of the packets’ surface. Warning labels must be printed on the upper half of the packet. The amended law also bans sales to and by minors (aged below 18) and the use of misleading descriptors like ‘light’, ‘low-tar’, ‘mild’ and ‘ultra light’.

All tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), either direct or indirect, including at point-of-sale, is banned by the new law. In addition, tobacco companies can no longer use their names, symbols or trademarks to promote activities (including so-called corporate social responsibility). The law also requires that no smoking scenes can be displayed in the entertainment media, i.e. TV and cinema, with the exception of scenes that are integral to the story. In the latter case, appropriate health warnings must be displayed.

Violations of the TAPS bans will lead to punishment of three months’ imprisonment or a penalty of 100,000 Taka (US$1,281). The penalty for smoking in a public place has been increased from Tk 50 to Tk 300, and a new penalty of Tk 500 will be imposed on the authorities/managers of public places and transportation if smoking occurs in their jurisdictions. Each of the penalty amounts will be doubled for subsequent violations. The new law expands the definition of ‘public place’ to include all workplaces and restaurants in addition to the list of public places and transports included in the previous law.

‘Authorized officers’ have been tasked with enforcing the law; however, the definition is narrow and includes only a few officials of the local administration. At the same time, local government bodies have been given authority to declare any place smoke-free.

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