Published:  04:22 AM, 16 October 2021

Strong Efforts Needed for Amendment of Tobacco Act and Raising

Strong Efforts Needed for Amendment of Tobacco Act and Raising

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include waterpipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis, and kreteks. Waterpipe tobacco use is damaging to health in similar ways to cigarette tobacco use. However, the health dangers of waterpipe tobacco use are often little understood by users.

Most often tobacco companies provide materials to their representatives, who provide them to wholesalers who then provide to retailers. Dealers also directly provide marketing and incentives to the retailers, usually during the launch of new products or if there is a change in brand packaging, taste, flavor, etc. Dealers provide marketing materials to retailers directly as part of the supply or resupply of products. Many times, tobacco companies launch campaigns, especially for new products, and hire public relations agencies and temporary staff to implement them.

Products are distributed to dealers directly from manufacturing plants. Dealers distribute the products either to wholesalers or directly to retailers weekly. Dealer vans (usual rickshaws) do not provide enough units to meet retailers' demand, so retailers will cover product shortages by buying from wholesalers.

Wholesaler product prices are higher. Marketing activities for top bidi companies were reported as non-existent by study respondents, and the availability of bidi was almost non-existent except for one or two wholesalers who maintain some stock. Retailers in periphery areas procure bidi from these wholesalers.

The companies provide regular product and marketing training at every level of the distribution chain. For new product launches, different points of the distribution chain are prioritized based on areas. The dealers provide multiday paid training for staff on new product features and specific marketing tactics for a new product launch. Sales representatives then brief wholesalers and vendors. In high-Social Economic Status (SES) areas, wholesalers are targeted first for briefings and are given free samples of the new product.

In low-SES areas, vendors are targeted first for briefings and given the products on credit to build up a customer base. If demand is established, wholesalers and vendors are then given free product samples to distribute. The incentives provided to workers across the distribution chain take advantage of workers' needs for expensive but essential home items, such as beds, kitchen appliances, and bicycles.

The Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, 2005 prohibits producing or disseminating an advertisement of a tobacco product in any way at the point of sale. The definition includes any kind of commercial activity intended to promote a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.

Both local multi-national companies are regularly supplying their dealers, wholesalers, and vendors with marketing materials multiple times per year, in addition to supplying materials for new product launches and other events. Tobacco companies are aware that promotional materials are illegal, yet they demonstrate a thoughtful approach to distributing them.

Promotional materials are commonly provided to all distributors including stickers, posters, branded lighters, empty packs for display, pack display stands, cash registers, key rings, calendars, cash boxes, and more. The companies provide gift boxes every three months to vendors who display the promotional materials.

The companies offer 'experiential' incentives for dealers, wholesalers, and vendors- such as celebratory dinners and free trips. They also offer "Best Seller" awards each year for top performers. In addition to parties and other events, both companies offer tours to tourist places. Opportunities for international travel have also been provided. Dealers with tickets to concerts and cricket matches. Dealers for both companies give out Best Seller awards once or twice a year to the top sales performers.

Dealers receive preferential treatment over wholesalers and vendors. In addition to small-scale events, the companies hold a large annual party for wholesalers, while they have smaller, quarterly celebrations. Like dealers, wholesalers are given tickets to concerts and cricket games. In addition to parties, celebratory dinners, and free trips, both companies offer Best Seller awards to top-performing retailers.

They organize an annual large event called the "Bandhu event" where the awards are given. The company gives awards to five Best Sellers in each of their sales areas across Dhaka on a yearly and half-yearly basis. Retail vendors are also given concert and cricket match tickets; dealers decide which retailer is eligible to get the tickets.

Smokeless tobacco use is highly addictive and damaging to health. Smokeless tobacco contains many cancer-causing toxins and its use increases the risk of cancers of the head, neck, throat, esophagus, and oral cavity (including cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip, and gums) as well as various dental diseases.One person dies every 6 seconds in the world due to smoking and the use of tobacco products. Tobacco-related diseases alone kill more than six million people each year.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 43.3% of people in Bangladesh use tobacco products. In other words, about 45 million people in the country use smoking and tobacco products. The most effective way to stop the rampant marketing of tobacco products is for governments and other decision-makers to enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships.

This includes banning all forms of POS marketing, including POS display. The Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, 2005) should be amended to strengthen the ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion, and sponsorship by explicitly banning point-of-sale displays.The Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, 2005) should be amended to strengthen the ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion, and sponsorship by explicitly banning point-of-sale displays.

The government in the 2017-2018 fiscal year earned Tk 22,810 crore as revenue from the tobacco sector. In the meantime, the economic loss caused by tobacco usage and second-hand smoke was worth Tk 30,570 crore. Environmental hazards of tobacco cultivation and smoking were not even measured.

To overcome the current situation and make Bangladesh a tobacco-free country by 2040, the government increase the price of tobacco products by imposing a higher tax. The existing tobacco control and usage act strictly and making timely amendments. A special emphasis on demotivating tobacco farmers and helping tobacco users quit the habit urges the government to strictly address tobacco usage.

The government must take tough decisions now through strengthening the law and ensuring its implementation and it should not be influenced by the tobacco industry. To this end, awareness of tobacco should be raised across the country. The people use the money spent for the development of the country due to the use of tobacco products and diseases.

Hiren Pandit is a Research Fellow, Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC)

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