Ban on sale of tobacco to youth
In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In the preamble of the Convention, deep concern is expressed regarding “the escalation in smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption by children and adolescents worldwide, particularly smoking at increasingly early ages”. The Convention aims to control tobacco by providing demand and supply reduction provisions including ban on sales to and by minors as a supply reduction measure.
Bangladesh signed the FCTC on 16 June 2003 and ratified it on 10 May 2004. As a signatory to the FCTC, Bangladesh is obliged to implement the provisions of the Convention and develop its own national regulatory regime to control smoking and production, use, sale, purchase and advertisements of tobacco products.
In response to this international call, Bangladesh has developed anti-tobacco legal regime. In 2005 the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act has been passed in the National Parliament. In the Act of 2005 there was no provision to ban sales of tobacco products to and by youth. Previously these provisions were regulated by the Juvenile Smoking Act, 1919. That was intended to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to young person apparently under the age of sixteen.
In 2013 the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act was amended which repealed 'the Juvenile Smoking Act' and inserted section 6A to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to a person apparently under the age of eighteen years. Violation of this provision is punishable with fine up to Tk. 5000/- and the repetition of same offence will be punishable with double fine consecutively.
All the offences under this Act including ban on sales of tobacco products to minors are cognizable, that means a police-officer may arrest any person committing any offence under this Act without a warrant. Then, the offender is subject to regular criminal prosecution in the Court of Magistrate (of any class). But no Court shall take cognizance of any offence without a written report of an authorised officer. Since the Act is included in the schedule of the Mobile Court Act of 2009, the Mobile Court now can take cognizance of any offence under this Act on spot and can convict the offender at once on the basis of confession. This is more effective and expeditious forum for remedy against violation of this provision.
The National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is responsible for the proper implementation and monitoring the tobacco control laws, including the provision of ban on sale of tobacco products to and by minors, but its capacity to supervise and monitor the compliance of this provision is very limited.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Bangladesh Report (2009), the age at smoking initiation; who began smoking between the ages of 15-16 years, 24.4% were rural residents and 26.7% urban residents. Among urban smokers, 21.0% initiate smoking between the ages 17-19, compared to 17.7% of rural smokers. This study shows that children (up to 18 years) in urban areas are more prone to this danger of smoking habit.
Now-a-days juvenile smoking is more prevalent and ever increasing in urban areas. In Bangladesh we find broadly two types of children of this age group, one is children engaged in education ranging from primary to undergraduate (up to 1st year) level and the another is children engaged in formal (factory, industry and other services) and informal (domestic work, construction work, road transport, pulling rickshaw/van, day labourer and street urchins etc.) employment.
For both type of children tobacco products are affordable and easily accessible. Although the Act prohibits sale to and by minors who have not attained 18 years of age, the Act has not provided any exemplary or deterrent punitive measure/s for the minors for buying tobacco products. Flagrant violation of this provision is appeared all over the country. Practically it is almost impossible for the vendors to refuse the offer of buying tobacco products by the youth. The problem is more severe when the seller him/herself is minor. Till now, there is no recorded instance of imposing fine to any vendor for violation of this provision.
As regards the laws of Bangladesh, inadequacy of law is not the main problem rather non-compliance of existing law is the main problem. Lack of strict monitoring and compliance mechanism will cause further violation of this legal provision. For effective implementation of this provision a compliance mechanism is required to be developed after identifying the causes and consequences of violation of this provision on the country's estimated 70 million children.
The writer is a student of law at the University of Dhaka.