Bangladesh observes World No Tobacco Day to discourage consumption

Bangladesh is observing World No Tobacco Day with a view to raising awareness among people and policymakers on the environmental impact of tobacco cultivation, manufacturing, and use.

The World Health Organization has set this year’s theme as “Tobacco: Threat to Our Environment," Progga (Knowledge for Progress) noted in a press release on Tuesday. For Bangladesh, the theme is “Tamak Mukto Paribesh, Susasther Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh contributes 1.3 percent of global tobacco production. Arable land used to produce tobacco poses a serious threat to the country's food security. According to Tobacco Atlas, tobacco cultivation accounts for 31 percent of deforestation in Bangladesh. Agrochemicals used in tobacco fields often find their way into nearby waterbodies, thus negatively impacting fish diversity. Halda River, the only natural carp breeding ground in Bangladesh, is now facing a similar predicament.

Discarded cigarette butts have become a major source of environmental pollution in Bangladesh. Seventy-one billion sticks, each containing single-use plastics, were produced in Bangladesh in FY21 alone. Each cigarette butt takes almost a decade to degrade and releases more than 7,000 toxic chemicals in the process. More than half of Bangladesh's tobacco consumers use smokeless tobacco products on a regular basis which are also sold in plastic boxes and pouches, equally detrimental to environment.

Passive smoking is another major source of environmental pollution. About 40.8 million Bangladeshi adults are exposed to passive smoking at home, with the majority being women. The numbers exposed in indoor workplaces and public transport are 8.1 million and 25 million respectively. A recent study conducted among primary school children in Dhaka has found that 95 percent of children have high nicotine levels in their saliva which is undoubtedly a result of passive smoking. Passive smoking causes deaths, and serious ailments such as cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

"Tobacco is creating immense pressure on our arable land, forests, fishing grounds and other limited natural resources. It threatens our environment, ecosystem, climate, and food security. The government should adopt a stronger law and effective tax measures to thwart tobacco aggression," said ABM Zubair, executive director of Progga.

To safeguard public health from the multi-faceted impact of tobacco, the government must amend the tobacco control law to eliminate Designated Smoking Areas in all public places, workplaces, ensure total smoke-free environment in mass transportation facilities, and ban corporate social responsibility programmes of tobacco companies, Progga said. In addition, prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products should be hiked through specific excise taxes. The government should also adopt measures to discourage tobacco cultivation, encourage alternatives among farmers, and also divest existing investment in British American Tobacco Bangladesh.

About 35.3 percent of all adults in Bangladesh use tobacco. The use of tobacco causes around 161,000 deaths in Bangladesh a year. It has been identified as one of the four major factors contributing to deaths and disabilities in Bangladesh, according to Global Burden of Diseases 2019. The financial loss incurred per year due to tobacco use exceeds Tk 305.6 billion.