MPOWER Bangladesh: National conference urges progress on core tobacco control polices

A high-level conference held in Dhaka framed the urgent need to reduce tobacco use with stark statistics: 59 percent of premature deaths in Bangladesh are caused by non-communicable diseases. 40 percent of these deaths are due to tobacco use. Its call to action was clear: to reduce non-communicable disease by one third by 2030 and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3, strong tobacco control policies must be a priority, now.

The conference, supported by The Union, focused on the World Health Organization’s MPOWER – a series of evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use. Keynote speakers were Whip of the National Parliament Md. Shahab Uddin MP; Advocate Fazilatunnessa Bappy MP, and National Professor Brigadier Dr Abdul Malik, President of the National Heart Foundation.

More than 200 attendees, including policymakers, civil society, academics and media convened at the Krishibid Institution Bangladesh for the full day event on 16 May. Sessions were designed to highlight priority policies for development and enforcement, as well as recognising the steady advance of progressive tobacco control at national level.

‘Tobacco is a threat to development. Its cost to the Bangladeshi people is both tragic and unsustainable. 100,000 lives are lost each year to tobacco use; it wrecks the health and economic well-being of individuals, families and communities,’ said Syed Mahbubul Alam, The Union’s technical advisor for tobacco control in Bangladesh. ‘The surest way to reduce tobacco use is to ensure comprehensive implementation of core tobacco control policies – MPOWER. This conference reinforced why we need to take urgent action on tobacco, and how significant reductions in tobacco use can be achieved.’

Sessions covered: increasing tobacco tax; tobacco industry tactics for obstructing policies to protect health and WHO FCTC Article 5.3; tobacco farming; graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging and tobacco control as integral to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3.

‘The most powerful policy for reducing tobacco use is increasing tobacco tax. An effective tobacco tax policy can only be introduced and implemented if ministries of finance and health proactively work together to reduce tobacco use as a common goal,’ said Alam. ‘Globally, 7.2 million are killed each year through tobacco use. And tobacco’s cost to the global economy is more than US$ 1 trillion each year. Tobacco is not only a health issue – it’s also an economic issue; a development issue.’

The conference was convened by multiple organisations working for public health: Non-Communicable Disease Control of the Director General of Health Services, National Tobacco Control Cell, Health Economics Unit of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance and Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust. It was supported by The Union under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

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