Experts, however, warned against complacency as there are examples in the world that tobacco consumption rose after an initial decline. Japan Tobacco’s entry to Bangladesh also worries them.
Health Minister Mohammed Nasim unveiled a factsheet of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2017 conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with the support of the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the US.
It showed that the consumption rate among the population aged 15 and above have dropped to 35.3 percent in 2017 from 43.3 percent in 2009 when the first GATS was done.
The reduction was mostly among the men — 46 percent down from 58 percent. Among women, it was reduced to only 25.2 percent from 28.7 percent as the smokeless tobacco which women mostly chew did not decrease, compared to smoking products.
Dr Kelly Henning, who leads the public health programme of Bloomberg Philanthropies, congratulated Bangladesh on the new findings and said this speaks about a “very strong work Bangladesh is doing in tobacco control”.
“We look forward to continuing to work with you all for further reduction,” Henning said at the unveiling of the findings, adding that a lot of work remains to be done particularly in tobacco taxation.
Dr Gan Quan, director of Tobacco Control, The Union, said: “We see a 19 percent reduction in Bangladesh. I congratulate the Ministry of Health for this achievement.”
NO REASON FOR COMPLACENCY
“We should be very much aware that certain work needs to be strengthened. Tobacco price is very low here. People can easily buy and 35 percent is still very high considering the number of population in Bangladesh,” Quan said.
Dr Mostafa Zaman, WHO expert on tobacco control, said: “There is no reason for complacency. Tobacco is very much affordable in Bangladesh. We need to make it less affordable.”
GATS uses global standardised methodology and includes information on respondents’ background, tobacco use, cessation, secondhand smoke, economics, media and knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards tobacco use.
In Bangladesh, the BBS said they used a multi-stage, geographically clustered sample design to produce nationally representative data. For that, they reached 14,880 households.
The results show the exposure to secondhand smoke in homes and public places also declined.
The percentage of current users who thought of quitting smoking or smokeless tobacco use because of health warnings on cigarette, bidi, smokeless tobacco packages increased to 55.9 percent from 49.8 percent in 2009.
Vandana Shah, director of South Asia programmes at Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, told bdnews24.com that the overall decline is the “largest” in the region.
Earlier, a GATS study in India found a 17 percent decline between the two surveys, she said.
Asked what might contribute to the decline, Shah said after the amendment of law, they have observed huge improvement from banning advertisement to introducing pictorial health warning.
Smokeless tobacco declined least in Bangladesh. Tobacco is still cheapest in Bangladesh, said Shah pointing to some areas of concern as Bangladesh aims to become a tobacco-free country by 2040.
“But the huge area of concern is the fact that Japan Tobacco has been able to invest and buy a large local company. It’s a huge challenge,” she said.
The world’s fourth largest company, Japan Tobacco, announced the acquisition of Akij Group’s tobacco business for $1.48 billion.
“Everyone sees Bangladesh as a growing market. You have a very large market of young population under 21 which are susceptible to tobacco use. They are also the target for tobacco industry and that is why Japan Tobacco wants to come in and British American Tobacco wants to expand.”
“I think Bangladesh perhaps needs to ban completely foreign direct investment in the tobacco industry like many other countries, including India,” Shah said.
“You need to locate the ways of how the tobacco industry lures young people.”
She said there are lots of countries where even after a sizable decline, it slows down. “Tobacco industries are always in innovation. So don’t take the decline for granted.”
“We have seen one of our biggest success stories in Turkey where after a big reduction between GATS 1 and GATS 2, it actually increased slightly when, probably they relaxed a little”.
For a tobacco-free Bangladesh as announced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Shah said: “Everything from taxation to stronger enforcement to plugging loopholes in the law to hold tobacco companies accountable is needed.”
Anti-tobacco group PROGGA said the progresses found in GATS were ‘significant’, but ‘not satisfactory’.
In a statement, it said Bangladesh would enjoy more success in becoming a tobacco-free nation if it properly implemented related law.
It urged the government to ensure prevention of exhibition of tobacco products at shops, sponsorship of programmes by tobacco companies, smoking in public and retail sale of cigarette to bring an end to the tobacco menace.