bangladesh time : A ruling Awami League MP has pointed to the serious “conflict of interest” between the government of Bangladesh and the tobacco companies, saying that this is threatening the Prime Minister’s commitment to make the country tobacco free by 2040.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury also said that he will vote ‘no’ in the upcoming budget, putting his membership at stake, if tobacco control measures are not properly adopted.
Chowdhury, known as an anti-tobacco champion in Bangladesh, was speaking at an annual research findings dissemination seminar of the Bangladesh Center for Communication Programme, BCCP, in Dhaka on Monday.
He received the World Health Organisation’s tobacco control award last year for his “active and continuous contribution in the area of tobacco control at local, national, regional and international levels”.
“The government of Bangladesh owns shares in British American Tobacco and here we have a situation when the Prime Minister made a political commitment declaring in public and yet the government continues to have shares,” Chowdhury said, referring to Sheikh Hasina’s declaration to make tobacco free Bangladesh by 2040.
“And this is not just having shares, they [the government] also have members in the board of directors. So government is managing and directing the company.
“This is a clear conflict of interest,” he said, adding that this is also violation of the WHO’s Framework Convention of Tobacco Control of which Bangladesh is a signatory.
“This is a contradiction. Unless we resolve the contradictions, and come out of the conflict of interest situation, the dream of a tobacco-free Bangladesh is going to remain as a dream,” he said, before the anti-tobacco activists, researchers, and government officials. Prof Dr Abdul Malik, founder of Bangladesh Heart Foundation Hospital, chaired the session.
“If business goes on as usual, Bangladesh will also miss the target of SDGs to reduce 30 percent consumption of tobacco by 2030, let alone showing respect to the commitment Prime Minister has made,” Chowdhury said.
To the cheers of anti-tobacco activists, he also pointed to some loopholes in the tobacco budgeting in which the finance minister imposes taxes in different tiers of tobacco.
Chowdhury said that every year during the budget “we see that there is a push back from the tobacco industry and the tobacco lobby.”
“Even now Bangladesh has a tier system which simply does not make any sense. If the idea is to stop people smoking tobacco then why are we giving them choices to smoke different brands of tobacco?” he asked, adding that “Bangladesh is one of the six countries in the world where we have tier system.”
“This tier system has to go,” he asserted.
Tobacco in Bangladesh is among the cheapest in the world.
“Why is tobacco still so cheap?” the lawmaker asked.
“It [taxation] is made and designed to increase the profit of tobacco companies, who is going to win the battle? Is it the interest of the tobacco companies or the health and well-being of the people of the country?” he said.
“If we don’t see any change in the budget, I am going to put my membership at stake…I am going to take the decision to vote ‘no’ in the budget if tobacco control measures are not in place.”
“This is not about politics, this is not about party, this is not about the history of Bangladesh….this is the future of Bangladesh. It’s about the young generation.”
He suggested a roadmap on how to make Bangladesh tobacco-free showing respect to the prime minister’s commitment.
“The Prime Minister’s commitment to a nation carries much more value, carries much more political ownership than the SDGs”.
The prime minister made the commitment to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040 at the South Asian Speakers’ meet in Dhaka in 2016.
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