A leading global tobacco company, Japan Tobacco Inc tried for six years to enter into the Indian market but India denied accepting the foreign direct investment in tobacco sector and Bangladesh should also refuse the FDI, said ruling party lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury on Wednesday.
Speaking at a tobacco study report presentation programme in the city, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, also the honorary president of Inter-Parliamentary Union, decried Bangladesh’s accepting FDI in tobacco sector noting that not all FDI brings good for a country.
It is not possible to build up a tobacco free Bangladesh keeping tobacco industry as a profitable business, said the lawmaker.
The single largest foreign direct investment in Bangladesh’s private sector was revealed in early last month JT said that it had agreed to purchase Akij Group’s tobacco business for $ 1.5 billion. The acquisition marks an aggressive push by the Japanese company into new markets as sales of its products in developed countries are shrinking as more people quit smoking.
Presenting a study carried out on 10 Asian countries including Bangladesh, Anti-tobacco campaigners PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance said that Bangladesh was one of the most vulnerable countries where tobacco industry interferes most in policy development and implementation.
They presented the study while launching a report on implementation of the World Health Organisation›s Framework Convention in Tobacco Control Article 5.3 at CIRDAP auditorium in the city on Wednesday.
‘Bangladesh presents a comparatively poor scenario (9th) among ten other Asian countries in Tobacco Industry Interference Index,’ said the report.
Progga conducted the study on 10 Asian countries in different time period using questionnaire developed by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance and collected information about Bangladesh which are publicly available in different government organisations and websites.
According to the study Bangladesh scored 78 out of 100, which suggests that Bangladesh government has performed poorly in implementing the FCTC Article 5.3.The score of the other nine countries are Brunei 29, Philippines 39, Thailand 49, Cambodia 51, Malaysia, Lao PDR 60, Myanmar 60, Vietnam 72 and Indonesia 81.
According to the study, the lower the score, the better compliance it shows in regard to FCTC Article 5.3.
Bangladesh ratified the FCTC in 2004 which says, ‘In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law,’ said PROGGA coordinator Hasan Shahriar while presenting the research findings.
According to the report, tobacco companies› involvement in the formulation of tobacco tax measures has been observed. Meetings between high level government officials and tobacco company representatives took place while preparing the national budget and the supplementary duty on bidi was reduced.
The study has found evidences where tobacco companies have been granted special benefits which include allowing pictorial health warnings to be printed on lower half of tobacco packs, a 25 per cent tax waiver by the NBR on export of tobacco products by factories located in the Export Processing Zones etc.
Unnecessary interaction between the policymakers and tobacco industry representatives increases the scope for industry interference in policy formulation, the report claimed.
While paying taxes is a legal requirement, tobacco companies are unnecessarily awarded for taxpaying, it said.
There has been a conflict of interest between the government and tobacco companies as the government owns 10.85 per cent shares in British American Tobacco Bangladesh, said the report while adding that government officials are actively engaging in tobacco industry related CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes.
The study report said no measure was in place to ensure transparency in the events of meetings or any sort of communication between government officials and tobacco company representatives.
The report also pointed out that the government had not nominated or allowed representatives from the tobacco industry in the delegation to the FCTC Conference of Parties and other relevant meetings and conferences.
Although the guidelines provide various preventive measures, the government has not put most of these measures in place to protect itself from industry interference.
The study report recommended the government to fully implement Article 5.3 guidelines and undertake different measures immediately to fulfil the requirements such as initiating awareness raising programmes about the obligation of the Article 5.3 from the health and family welfare ministry, disclosing all interactions with the tobacco industry and its representatives, and adopting code of conduct for all officials in dealing with the tobacco industry.
Speaking as chief guest, planning minister AHM Mustafa Kamal urged for intense engagement of general people to build awareness against tobacco in a sustainable way.
He also assured that the government would increase tax of tobacco products in the next budget to discourage tobacco consumption.
Apart from giving his critical view on JT›s FDI in Bangladesh, Saber Hossain Chowdhury also claimed that the involvement of government officials in BATB as an obstacle to reduce the tobacco industry interference in the country›s policy making.
While presiding over the programme, Dhaka University former vice-chancellor Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique said multidimensional efforts were needed to build awareness among people against tobacco as well as considering the impact of any foreign investment in the country before accepting it.
Among others, Md Abul Kalam Azad, principal coordinator (SDG Affairs) of prime minister›s office, Syed Mahfuzul Huq, national professional officer of World Health Organisation Bangladesh and Mahfuzur Rahman Bhuiyan, grants manager of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids also attended the programme.