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31 May, 2021 04:54:43 PM

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Tobacco in the Covid-19 pandemic: ‘Commit to Quit’

Bringing the hands to mouth can transfer the coronavirus into their body. Sharing the tobacco-product like-cigarettes can transmit the virus into mouth and nose of the people. WHO is ceaselessly combating against the tobacco epidemic
Dr. Md. Enamul Hoque
Tobacco in the Covid-19 pandemic: ‘Commit to Quit’

Every year on 31 May the World No Tobacco Day is observed globally to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes. The World No Tobacco Day theme for the year 2021 is “Commit to Quit”.

The campaign aims at spreading awareness about the dangers of tobacco and its negative impact on health, as well as the exploitation of the nicotine industry that is geared towards the youth in particular. It also aims to reduce the diseases and deaths caused by tobacco consumption.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, special attention has been put to the celebration to the Anti Tobacco Day as according to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking can increase the chances of getting Covid -19 since both smoking and Covid maintain a complex interaction. The celebration is to inform the people on the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco, what the world is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic in the Covid-19 pandemic, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.

The harms of tobacco-use are deep-rooted. Tobacco causes more than 8 million deaths around the world every year. The news came out that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with Covid-19 compared to non-smokers. Therefore, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered millions of tobacco users saying to want to quit tobacco. But, quitting tobacco can be challenging, especially with the added social and economic stress that have come as a result of the pandemic. Beside the death of 8 million tobacco users, about another 1.2 million of deaths are the results of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke (SHS).

Bringing the hands to mouth can transfer the coronavirus into their body. Sharing the tobacco-product like-cigarettes can transmit the virus into mouth and nose of the people. World Health Organization (WHO) is ceaselessly combating against the tobacco epidemic. Studies reveal that increased stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic -- citing fears about the virus, job uncertainty and the mental health effects of isolation -- and stress was the main reason for increased nicotine and tobacco use among the people.

In Bangladesh, tobacco is a big threat to our development. The public health is more important than revenue collection. In a recent study, it is found that the revenue from the tobacco sector is around Tk 23,000 crore per year; while more than Tk 50,000 crore is spent on treatment of tobacco-related diseases like heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, oral cancer, diabetes, COPD and many other diseases that cause death of 125,000 people in the country every year. These diseases are lethal, expensive and long-term. 

Furthermore, nearly 3.5 million people are suffering from tobacco related diseases that have negative impact in the national economy. It is also assumed that 21.4 million people will be under threat of cancer disease by 2030. To control this situation and to ensure actual development in health system attention should pay on preventive measures.

Tobacco is grown throughout the country, with the largest tobacco growing areas including Rangpur, Kushtia, and Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districs. Its cultivation, drying of tobacco leaf in firewood furnace, production of tobacco products like biri, cigarette, jarda, gul, and tobacco consumption - at all stages tobacco is harming public health, environment, and economy. Because of passive smoking among pregnant women, dead childbirth, harm of unborn baby and physical disabilities are happening; which is a great challenge for overall development.

We need to impose a higher tax to prevent the people from consuming tobacco, and raise the fine for smoking in public by amending the Tobacco Control Act 2005. In addition, provision has to be introduced for direct filing of cases in case of violation of the tobacco control law. Under the existing law, it is not possible to bring tobacco companies under punishment; so, it is high time to amend the existing law.

Because of our liberal outook, tobacco companies are advertising tobacco products in various restaurants in major cities in Bangladesh targeting the youth group. Although the law prohibits advertising of all types of tobacco, the companies are promoting tobacco directly and indirectly on dramas, movies and online platforms. Under the existing law, it is not possible to punish tobacco companies. Therefore, to protect the people, the Tobacco Control Act needs to be amended immediately to bring the tobacco companies under control.

Educational institutions need to be 100% smoke-free. A recent study conducted among school children of Dhaka found 95 percent of school-going children have higher nicotine in their body which is undoubtedly a result of passive smoking. Teachers who smoke may consequently influence their students to adopt smoking; therefore, new law needs to be enacted that smokers must not be teachers in any academic institutes from primary to university levels. We find the characters in web series and on television are seen smoking cigarettes. To control tobacco addiction, smoking scenes in dramas and movies need to be banned. Everyone must work from their place to control tobacco. Non-smokers need to be given priority in all types of opportunities.

According to a recent survey, about 70 percent of current adult smokers wanted to quit, and although about 55 percent had attempted to do so in the past year, only 7 percent were successful in quitting for 6-12 months. Many smokers do not quit on their first attempt and need several tries before they succeed. We need to continue to offer support and encouragement and congratulate the person who's quitting for making a quit attempt, and remind them that it may take one more attempt before quitting for good.

Higher tax has to be levied on it as raising taxes on tobacco at a higher rate will increase revenue and, conversely, reduce the number of tobacco users. In the law, a provision has to be introduced for direct filing of cases in case of violation of the tobacco control. Besides the state measures, family awareness has to be increased. The print and electronic media need to play an effective role in tobacco control. As the prevalence of tobacco use in Bangladesh has reached an alarming stage, Bangladesh needs uncompromising measures to reduce deaths and illness related to lung and respiratory diseases, and to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040.

The writer is educational researcher and teacher educator. He is ex- professor of English. Email: [email protected]

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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.

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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