RAMPANT smoking in public places, banned since 2005 by a law, shows a poor level of public awareness. It also reflects successive governments’ inability to enforce the law. Frequent smoking is observed in public places such as parks, offices, restaurants, hospitals, educational institutions and public transport and this is alarming as non-smokers are passively harmed. Different studies have revealed the impact of passive smoking that includes risk of heart and arterial disease among children. Therefore, it goes without saying that there is a serious public health impact of passive smoking. The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act 2005, despite amendments that have increased fine six times higher for smoking in public places and introducing a new fine of Tk 500 for managers of public places for their failure to stop public place smoking is yet to make any impact. Fine for not displaying warning signs to keep people away from smoking in public places is also yet to be realised. The law, amended twice in 2013 and 2015, proves again that the law itself is not enough to make any changes in society.
The situation as described is quite antithetical to the government’s declaration of making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040. Public health experts and anti-tobacco campaigners suggest that the law alone cannot break the deeply-rooted practice of public-place smoking. They also mention that all concerned authorities have, however, focused more on enacting the law and remained inattentive towards its implementation. Majority of the people have no knowledge of the harm of public smoking or the awareness of the law that smoking in public places is a civil offence and amounts to fine up to Tk 300. Many institutions do not have any separate smoking zones. Moreover, hospitals and schools are also not complying with the tobacco control act. According to the 2013 statistics of the Institute for Health Matrix and Evaluation, 3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GDP is wasted annually because of tobacco use. In addition, tobacco products are cheaper in Bangladesh compared with many other countries. Against this backdrop, failures of the government to check the frequent smoking in public places will only exacerbate the situation.
The incumbents, therefore, must strictly enforce the amended tobacco products (control) act and stop smoking in public places. All the authorities concerned must also take precaution so that people are not harassed by the law enforcement agencies by way of manipulating the definition of ‘public place’. The enforcement of law alone, however, cannot make the expected change in people’s mentality. A massive awareness programme is needed to make people aware of the ban on public-place smoking. In addition, raising tax on tobacco must be continued. Otherwise, in the long run, the nation will have to bear the economic burden of public health consequence of passive smoking.
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