Iqbal Masud :
Worldwide, particularly in Bangladesh, there is a strong focus on the detrimental health effects associated with tobacco use. Different activities are being undertaken, number of seminar, workshop, training and others campaign are being organized in National and International level to address the adverse effect of tobacco use. However, illicit tobacco trade is extremely an untouched issue in Bangladesh. The illicit trade in tobacco products is a threat both to government finances and to public health. It robs governments of much needed revenues, and it undermines efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, particularly through the imposition of high levels of tobacco taxation. Every year, on 31 May, WHO and partners mark World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. For World No Tobacco Day 2015, WHO call on countries to work together to end the illicit trade of tobacco products.
Although by definition the global illicit trade in tobacco products is hard to measure with accuracy, it is known to be very substantial. A 2009 study estimated that 11.6 percent of the global cigarette market was illicit. This is equivalent to 657 billion cigarettes a year, and means a loss of tax revenues of about US$40.5 billion. The illicit tobacco market may account for as much as one in every 10 cigarettes consumed globally. Another study shown that, 115 brands of cigarette, bidi, cheroot and other tobacco products are being sold in an illicit manner. Moreover, 8% locally made cigarettes are on sale without band rolls of tax. Fifty-four percent sellers have informed that they receive greater commission while 11 % said, it is sold in large scale due to cheaper prices. In the research findings, it has been seen that 37% sellers already know that it is illegal while 20% of them said they know that most of the tobacco products are being sold illegally. Only 5% know that most of the products are imported legally.
According to the World Bank, the tobacco industry is to benefit economically in the business of smuggled cigarettes. The tobacco industry is considered to knowingly encourage cigarette smuggling. Bangladesh in particular, is a major target due to its large population, close proximity to India. An excessive produce of cigarettes into Bangladesh suggests that it may in fact act as a supplier to neighboring India and Myanmar. Excessive use of bidi and churut are seen in the border side district because these are very cheap. Over 100 brands of tobacco products are on sale across the country through illicit trade. Because of taste, 48 percent people use foreign brand of cigarette while 22 percent use it due to its easy availability and 22 percent for maintaining the social status.
The availability of cheap cigarettes and other tobacco products undermine efforts to promote cessation and further hook those people in need of help. The creation of a black market removes all control over the sales. Apart from representing a threat to public health by encouraging consumption, smuggling deprives governments. Unless smuggling is counteracted at both national and international levels, the impact of other tobacco control measures will be largely undermined.
The governments should take a multi-sectoral approach in addressing illicit trade and reaffirm the importance of partnering with civil society in the development and implementation of measures to curb illicit trade. To combat the illicit trade of tobacco products, the international community negotiated and adopted in November 2012 the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, the first protocol to the WHO FCTC.
Ratification by governments of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is necessary to respond to the financial, legal and health impacts of the illicit trade of tobacco products. A strong protocol to combat the illicit tobacco trade is essential for effective and successful implementation of the WHO FCTC – and to reducing tobacco use and saving lives around the world.
(Iqbal Masud is head of AMIC, Dhaka Ahsania Mission)
Iqbal Masud :