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Amend Law to end big tobacco's ill moves and CSR Manipulation: Anti-Tobacco organisations

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With a view to continuing the death trade amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, tobacco companies have resorted to a series of cunning tactics including intense lobbying campaigns, grants, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, spread of misinformation and other tactics. On 26 September 2020, Mr. Hasan Shahriar, Head of Tobacco Control Project, PROGGA, has presented these issues in a webinar titled "Covid-19 and Tobacco Industry", organized by PROGGA, with support from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK).

According to the observations of PROGGA, a research and advocacy organization, two multinational tobacco companies were able to secure special permission from the Ministry of Industries amid this ongoing pandemic to continue cigarette production, marketing and leaf procurement by presenting cigarette as an essential item, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning that tobacco products help spread corona infection and worsen subsequent illness.  As a part of carefully crafted CSR ploys, the companies have been distributing personal protective equipment among law-enforcing agencies and field administration officials, arranging and participating in Facebook Live Talk Shows to promote brand image, and spreading misinformation such as smokers enjoy better protection against coronavirus infection due to tobacco addiction. Vaping traders have become particularly desperate in recent times, aggressively targeting the youth. Campaigns after campaigns are being launched everyday on social media platforms to spread utter lies and misinformation and to get the youth into vaping. Anti-Tobacco activists speaking in the program said, CSR programs create scope for unnecessary interactions between tobacco companies and govt. officials and policymakers. Tobacco companies take full advantage of this and interfere in the adoption and implementation of tobacco control measures. They call for an immediate amendment of existing tobacco control law to put an end to all CSR activities of tobacco companies. Speakers, in the webinar, have also called for a total ban on production, import and marketing of all vaping items including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Moreover, they also stressed on the fact that the existence of cigarettes in the list of Essential Products is in conflict with the Honorable Prime Minister’s Vision for a Tobacco-Free Bangladesh by 2040. They demanded that the 1956 Essential Products Act be amended to eliminate tobacco products from the list.

Bangladesh Country Advisor of Vital Strategies Md. Shafiqul Islam, Lead Consultant Bangladesh of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Dr. Md. Shariful Alam, Former Coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) and former Additional Secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, Professor of Economics University of Dhaka and Executive Director of ARK Foundation Dr. Rumana Haque, Project Director of Bangladesh Cancer Society Prof. Dr. Golam Mohiuddin Faruque, Department Head of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh Prof. Dr. Sohel Reza Choudhury, Executive Director of WBB Trust Saifuddin Ahmed, Director of Health & Wash Sectors of Dhaka Ahsania Mission Iqbal Masud, Technical Advisor of The UNION Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam, Executive Director of National Anti-Tuberculosis Association of Bangladesh (NATAB) Mohammad Kamaluddin, Convener of Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote (TABINAJ) Farida Akhter, Team Leader of the Tobacco Control Program of Bangladesh Center for Communication Program (BCCP) Mohammad Shamimul Islam, Executive Director of VOICE Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Executive Director of Grambangla Unnayan Committee A K M Maksud and Executive Director of PROGGA ABM Zubair spoke in the webinar. Besides, representatives of National Tobacco Control Cell and anti-tobacco organizations Prattashya,  Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, Aid Foundation, Bangladesh Network for Tobacco Tax Policy (BNTTP), Tobacco Control and Research Cell (TCRC), YPSA, United Forum Against Tobacco (UFAT) and Development Activities of Society (DAS) attended the program.

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