National response to tobacco control
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) aimed at protecting the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco. One of the Convention's core supply reduction provisions contained in Article 17 mandates the state parties to promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and individual sellers. In relation to the impact of tobacco cultivation on environment, Article 18 stipulates that the parties have to give due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories. Reading both the provisions together along with the object and purpose of the Convention, it is quite clear that, the WHO FCTC envisions complete elimination of tobacco and thereby generating an alternative for all dependents on tobacco, has becomean imperative.
Under the Convention, Parties are, in general, obliged to adopt and implement effective legislative, executive, administrative and/or other measures for preventing and reducing tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction and exposure to tobacco smoke. Most importantly, Article 5.3 stipulates that Parties, while setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Thus, it is clear that there must have corresponding provisions in national law to prevent tobacco industry interference in formulating national tobacco control measures.
WHO ranked Bangladesh as the 7th largest tobacco growing and 8th largest tobacco consuming country. In Bangladesh, there is no updated, consistent and comprehensive nation-wide data on tobacco cultivation available in the official sources. On the other hand, the anti-tobacco campaigners and mass media reports are claiming rapid increase in acreage of tobacco cultivation, manufacture and export.
Bangladesh as a Party to the WHO FCTC requires implementing domestic law to give legal effect to the convention. In 2005, Bangladesh enacted the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act with the objective of controlling tobacco products for public health and implementing the WHO FCTC. Section 12 provided for granting loans on easy terms by the Government to encourage the cultivation of alternative cash crops instead of tobacco; and the Government will run such loan facilities for five years then a comprehensive Policy will be formulated to gradually discourage tobacco farming and installation of tobacco industries. The 2013 Amendment of the said Act omitted the provision relating to loan facilities and provided only for framing a Policy to gradually discourage tobacco cultivation.The Rules framed under the law in 2006 and 2015 have no mention on tobacco cultivation and its environmental hazards. Previously, in Prof. Nurul Islam and Others v Government of Bangladesh and Others (2000), the High Court Division directed the government to take stepsto stop tobacco production, giving subsidy for alternative crops and creating alternative jobs for tobacco workers. The decision was subsequently upheld by the Appellate Division.
As of now, Bangladesh has not yet framed any Policy to regulate tobacco cultivation. Even there is no specific provision in country's environmental laws to regulate environmental harms by tobacco. Regrettably, there is no provision in the country's tobacco control laws to prevent tobacco industry interference in formulating tobacco control measures. In the absence of such provision, tobacco industry has deepened its efforts to derail, dilute and delay the implementation and enforcement of tobacco control measures in Bangladesh. To many, dilution of the provision relating to tobacco cultivation by 2013 Amendment and subsequent delay in framing the Policy are attributable to tobacco industry interference. Now, it is suggested for Bangladesh to frame a comprehensive Policy, as mandated under the law, in consonance with the Government's goal of making tobacco free Bangladesh by 2040. It is further suggested that, in line with international obligations under the WHO FCTC and related instruments, necessary provisions to incentivise alternative crops and alternative means of livelihoods, taking into account thehealth, social, environmental and economic menaces of tobacco cultivation, have to be inserted in the existing tobacco control laws.
The writer is an environmental lawyer and activist.