Subnational government introduces first licensing scheme for tobacco vendors in Bangladesh – model now proposed for national roll out

Bangladesh’s first licensing policy for tobacco vendors will be introduced this month throughout the municipality of Jhenaidah, to regulate sales of tobacco products. The scheme closes a significant loophole; although Bangladesh has some strong tobacco control laws, policies such as bans point-of-sale promotion are hard to enforce without a formalised register of vendors.

The new scheme requires those selling tobacco products to register and purchase a license for 500 Taka (US$6.50) by the end of January 2017. Licensees are required to comply with all tobacco control laws and are banned from selling tobacco products within 200 metres of schools. First-time violators of the new licensing rules will be fined 500 Taka – a sum which doubles for every future contravention.

The ‘Local Government Guideline Against Unlawful Tobacco Trade’ was developed and advocated for by the AID Foundation, Union grantees under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

‘This is significant milestone for tobacco control in Bangladesh. It fills a key infrastructural gap. A licensing system is vital for regulating tobacco sales and ensuring that laws to protect health can be well enforced,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘We congratulate AID and the Authority of Jhenaidah Municipality for taking the lead. We now urge policymakers to take up this model and roll it out nationally.’

In order to develop the licensing scheme, AID Foundation conducted a survey amongst tobacco vendors in 22 municipalities. Of the 23,200 respondents close to 100 percent of tobacco sellers did not have legal permission to sell these products, but that 60 percent would pay for a license in order to continue their business. The survey identified that tobacco vendors generate a good income, and that tobacco companies supply salespeople with promotional goods including t-shirts, display boxes, signboards, umbrellas, mobile phones and televisions.

The findings were presented to Jhenaidah municipality officials and media, along with alarming national statistics on accessibility and affordability of tobacco products to young people. Members of Jhenaidah’s local government decided unanimously to introduce this policy to regulate and control tobacco sales throughout the district.  

Now local governments of seven additional municipalities are working to introduce licenses for tobacco vendors. Policymakers in a number of other districts are also supportive of such a development.

‘This new scheme will prevent systematic violation of the ban on tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship, and ensure that all packaging displays the correct graphic health warnings,’ said Syed Mahbubul Alam, The Union’s technical advisor for tobacco control in Bangladesh. ‘It will also help protect the most vulnerable in our society, preventing young people from becoming addicted to tobacco.’

Bangladesh is one of The Union’s priority countries for tobacco control – it has some of the highest rates of tobacco use in the world, 41.3 million people according to the last Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2009). 

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