Government's policy agenda in Bangladesh is still highly vulnerable to the interference of the tobacco industry, according to a study report revealed on Saturday.
Tobacco companies have managed to exploit the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to the fullest for their benefit. The tobacco companies have particularly used their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) as a pretense to infiltrate into policymaking and administration and extract a variety of benefits, the study says.
The study report titled ‘Tobacco Industry Interference Index: FCTC Article 5.3 Implementation Report, Bangladesh’, was disclosed here at a webinar, jointly organized by research and advocacy organization PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).
The report says that Bangladesh's progress in the implementation of Article 5.3 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is not satisfactory at all.
Speaking at the webinar as the chief guest, Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said tobacco can’t be on the list of essential commodities in any way.
“I’ve already placed a Private Member’s Bill (in Parliament) to exclude tobacco from the list of essential commodities. Providing tobacco companies with incentives from Covid 19 stimulus fund is totally unacceptable,”he added.
Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, former additional secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and also former Coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) said the government has recently taken steps to amend the Tobacco Control Act.
The Health Ministry can raise awareness about the FCTC Article 5.3 obligation among the key ministries like finance, industries, commerce and agriculture so that the multi-faceted interferences of tobacco industry can be prevented especially during the ongoing amendment process of tobacco control law, he said.
Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, Chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), while presiding over the event said tobacco use prevalence is such a problem which can’t be tackled only by the sole effort of the Health Ministry. Rather all ministries should make a concerted effort to curb this havoc, he said.
One of the most damning claims made in the report is that the tobacco industry has used the CSR programs of companies as a pretense to get closer to policymakers, government officials and administration in order to exploit this connection to extract different benefits and to interfere in tobacco control activities.
In addition, the companies have even publicised their CSR activities as much as possible, effectively skirting the ban on tobacco advertising to salvage their corporate image among the public.
The study recommended banning all types of CSR activities of tobacco companies through an amendment of the law.
Besides, it has been recommended to make all relevant ministries aware of the obligation to comply with Article 5.3. Since different ministries are not fully aware of the obligations of the government in tobacco control, tobacco companies find it too easy to confuse these entities.
Two multinational tobacco companies have managed to get the Ministry of Industries (MoI) to issue letters ordering the local administrative bodies and law enforcement agencies to take steps to ensure that the manufacturing, marketing, supply and leaf purchase of these companies run smoothly despite the countrywide shutdown.
PROGGA conducted the study since 2018 to stress the need for the formulation of a policy in line with the FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines so that tobacco industry can no longer interfere in the tobacco control activities of the government.
The study was conducted with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies' Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP), is part of a global publication of the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at the School of Global Studies in Thammasat University.
The same study has been conducted in 57 countries this year. In the Global Index of Tobacco Industry Interference, Bangladesh has been placed in the 27th position.
However, still Bangladesh presents the worst scenario when it comes to tobacco industry interference among its South Asian peers. In the 2020 Index, Bangladesh has scored 68 which was 77 in the previous year.
Md. Shafiqul Islam, Bangladesh Country Advisor of Vital Strategies; Dr. Syed Mahfuzul Huq, WHO National Professional Officer , ABM Zubair, Executive Director of PROGGA, among others, spoke as panel discussants, while Mortuza Haider Liton, Convener of Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) delivered the welcome address, said a release.
Hundreds of leader and activists of Muktijoddha Mancha, a platform claiming to represent freedom fighter-families' interests, shut down the city's Shahbagh intersection on Saturday demanding arrest of Islamist leaders Mufti Syed Mohammad Faizul Karim and Mamunul Haque.
The protesters also announced a 24-hour ultimatum to arrest the religious leaders as they had opposed the establishment of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s sculpture in the capital.
The faction of Muktijoddha Mancha, led by Bulbul-Mamun section block the intersection for an hour at 4pm, inevitably triggering acute traffic congestion in the adjacent area.
They formed a human chain in the vicinity of the famous Raju Sculpture on the DU campus first, later the rally blocked the Shahbagh intersection.
They placed a seven-point demand that includes ensuring exemplary punishment for senior Naeb-e-Amir of Islami Andolan Bangladesh Mufti Syed Mohammad Faizul Karim and Allama Mamunul Haque, acting secretary-general of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, within 24 hours, setting up Bangabandhus sculpture at every educational institutions and districts.
The protesters also demanded banning religion- based politics to keep communal harmony vibrant and setting up anti-sexual harassment cells at universities to monitor sexual assaults on students.
Their demands also sought punishment against people who spread communal violence by speeches and ensuring capital punishment of child molesters.
Speaking at the rally, President of Muktijoddha Mancha Aminul Islam Bulbul announced Mufti Faizul and Mamunul as "persons non grata" in the country for their stand against Bangabandhu.
"We have set a 24 hours ultimatum to arrest the duo otherwise we will go for tougher movement countrywide to wipe them out from the country," warned Bulbul.
"When the world is researching the Quran, these culprits are busy molesting child students," he said, urging the people to resist them.
Former Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Shahabuddin Ahmed said "Those who take stand against Bangabandhu have no right to live in this country."
He however urged the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take immediate actions against them, terming them 'an anti-liberation group'.
The Mancha leaders said they would hold countrywide protests on December 1 to press home their demands.
Earlier on November 13 in a programme, Faizul Karim and Allama Mamunul opposed setting up of a sculpture of the country’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the capital.
New dates will be released in the future, the central bank said in a notice.
Though Bangladesh Bank has not cited any reason behind the same, a senior official told UNB that the decision to defer the exam was taken in view of the rising Covid-19 cases in the country.
The recruitment exam — MCQ Test — was scheduled to be held at 67 centres in Dhaka city. Some 40,155 applicants are vying for 771 jobs in seven state-run financial organisations.
These are Sonali Bank, Janata Bank, Rupali Bank, Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank, Bangladesh House Building Corporation, Investment Corporation of Bangladesh (ICB) and Karmasangsthan Bank.
The health authorities recorded 29 new dengue cases in 24 hours until Saturday morning.
Currently, 88 dengue patients are receiving treatment at hospitals across the county.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said 72 of the patients are taking treatment in Dhaka hospitals.
Health authorities reported 1,134 dengue cases since January and 1,040 patients have recovered.
Three confirmed dengue-related deaths have been reported this year.
Reports of six dengue-related deaths have been sent to the IEDCR, which has so far reviewed four cases.
According to official figures, 101,354 dengue cases and 179 deaths were recorded in Bangladesh last year.
Dengue fever was first reported in Bangladesh in 2000 and it claimed 93 lives. In three years, the fatality number almost fell to zero.
However, the mosquito-borne viral infection struck again in 2018, killing 26, and infecting 10,148 people.
Also read: Risk of dengue outbreak rises amid lockdown
Four people were killed and 20 others injured as a ‘rashly driven’ bus plunged into a roadside ditch in Tungipara upazila on Gopalganj-Patgati road in Gopalganj on Saturday morning.
The deceased were identified as Sanjit Dhar ,40 of Moksudpur upazila, Krishna Kirtania,32 of Boro Dumuria village of Tungipara, van driver Akramuddin Mollah 55 of Nilpha village of the same uapzila and helper of the bus driver Thanda Mia,52 of Bagerhat district.
Officer-in-Charge of Tungipara police station AFM Nasim said the Dhaka-bound bus from Pirojpur first hit a van and then fell into the ditch as he lost control over the steering around 10 am, leaving the van driver dead on the spot and 23 others injured.
Three of the injured died on the way to hospital.
The other injured were taken to 250-bed general hospital and Tungipara upazila health complex, he said.
Witnesses said the driver was driving the bus recklessly and chatting with two others ignoring the passengers’ safety.
Road accidents in Bangladesh
Road accidents in Bangladesh is still one of the leading causes of deaths as 37,170 people were killed in 26,902 accidents across the country in the last five years.
Besides, 82,758 people were injured in these accidents, according to a report released by Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity (BJKS), a passenger welfare body, marking the National Roads Safety Day on October 22.
According to the report, 8,642 people were killed and 21,855 injured in 6,581 road accidents in 2015 alone.
In 2016, some 6,055 people were killed and 15,914 injured in 4,312 road accidents.
Besides, 7,397 people were killed and 16,193 injured in 4,979 accidents in 2,017 while 7,221 people were killed and 1,5466 were injured in 5514 accidents in 2018; and 7,855 people were killed and 13,330 injured in 5,516 accidents in 2019, the BJKS report said.