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4 June, 2018 10:53:31 AM


Tobacco kills millions, wreaks environmental havoc

Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Tobacco kills millions, wreaks environmental havoc

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report that smoking and other tobacco use kills more than seven million people across the world each year. The WHO also warned of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste.

The UN agency said that tougher measures were needed to rein in tobacco use, urging countries to ban smoking in the workplace and indoor public spaces, outlaw marketing of tobacco products and hike cigarette prices.
Tobacco threatens us all. Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air. The WHO warned that the annual death toll of seven million people had jumped from four million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world's single biggest cause of preventable death. And the death toll is expected to keep rising, with the WHO bracing for more than one billion deaths this century. By 2030, more than 80 percent of the deaths will occur in developing countries like Bangladesh, which have been increasingly targeted by tobacco companies seeking new markets to circumvent tightening regulation in developed nations.
Tobacco use also brings an economic cost. The WHO estimates that it drains more than US $1.4 trillion (1.3 trillion euros) from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or nearly two percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers. From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process.

The report detailed how growing tobacco often requires large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, and it warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries. This is largely due to the amount of wood needed for curing tobacco, with the WHO estimating that one tree is needed for every 300 cigarettes produced. The WHO also highlighted the pollution generated during the production, transport and distribution of tobacco products. It estimates that the industry emits nearly four million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually – the same as around three million transatlantic flights. And the waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens.

Once in the hands of the consumer, tobacco smoke emissions spewed thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases into the environment. The cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world. Two thirds of the 15 billion cigarettes sold each day across the world are thrown on to the street or elsewhere in the environment.

Those butts account for up to 40 percent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups. The WHO urged governments to take strong measures to rein in tobacco use. One of the least used, but most effective tobacco control measures is through increasing tobacco tax and prices.

Bangladesh, a country with heavy burden of tobacco-related ill health, is currently implementing several of the best buy (MPOWER) measures to reduce tobacco use. Bangladesh was the first developing country in the world to sign the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2003. It has been a Party since the 2004.

The WHO is contributing to the implementation of MPOWER measures in Bangladesh through: providing technical assistance for developing tobacco control legislation in compliance with the WHO FCTC. Which provide technical and logistical support to the (i) National Tobacco Control Cell, (ii) National Board of Revenue, (iii) various professional bodies and (iv) nongovernmental organisations in their tobacco control programmes. The WHO also worked closely with the country to strengthen enforcement of tobacco control law, create public awareness and adopt higher taxes on all types of marketed tobacco products.

The heavy burden of tobacco-related ill health in Bangladesh is rooted in the country’s high production and consumption of tobacco products. Thus Bangladesh is one of the five focus countries of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use (BI). According to the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2015, the prevalence of adult smoking – persons aged 15 years and over – in Bangladesh fell from 34.6 percent to 20 percent between 2000 and 2013. More than a quarter of the adult population in Bangladesh use smokeless tobacco (SLT). These contribute to high prevalence of oral cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses. The SLTs are available in various forms including Zarda, Gul, Khaini and Sada Pata. The price of SLT products is very low, making it affordable to everyone including the poor.

However, Bangladesh enacted a tobacco control law in 2005 and formulated regulations for its implementation in 2006. The WHO provided comments and suggestions to the National Tobacco Control Cell of the Ministry of Health to close many loopholes in the law. In 2013 the law was amended to make it more compliant with the WHO FCTC. The WHO, along with other partners, supported government efforts – technically and financially – to formulate the rules for implementation of the new law and make some of the amended clauses operational.

In Bangladesh the WHO works closely with national authorities to fully enforce the amended tobacco control law, thereby contributing positively towards protecting public health. The WHO organised workshops for governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders on countering tobacco industry interference, on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans, on tobacco cessation and tobacco taxation, as well as on smoke-free implementation and enforcement. But the best way to save the people and the environment from the ills of tobacco consumption is to ban the use of the product leaving aside the intention, if there is any, to earn increasing amount of revenue from high taxes on tobacco to fatten the public exchequer. It has been observed that high taxes are not enough to prevent the use of tobacco in the country.     


The writer is a retired Professor

of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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