Tobacco industry interference to undermine the development and implementation of graphic health warnings in Bangladesh

Md Hasan Shahriar, Md Mehedi Hasan, Md Shahedul Alam, Britta K. Matthes, Anna Gilmore, ABM Zubair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background In Bangladesh, the 2013 Amendment of the Tobacco Control Act made graphic health warnings (GHWs) on the upper 50% of all tobacco packs obligatory. However, at the time of writing (May 2022), GHWs are still being printed on the lower 50% of packs. This paper seeks to explore how the tobacco industry undermined the development and implementation of GHWs in Bangladesh, a country known for a high level of tobacco industry interference (TII) that has rarely been examined in the peer-reviewed literature.

Methods Analysis of print and electronic media articles and documents.

Results Cigarette companies actively opposed GHWs, while bidi companies did not. The primary strategy used to influence the formulation and delay the implementation of GHWs was direct lobbying by the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association and British American Tobacco Bangladesh. Their arguments stressed the economic benefits of tobacco to Bangladesh and sought to create confusion about the impact of GHWs, for example, claiming that GHWs would obscure tax banderols, thus threatening revenue collection. They also claimed technical barriers to implementation—that new machinery would be needed—leading to delays. Tensions between government bodies were identified, one of which (National Board of Revenue)—seemingly close to cigarette companies and representing their arguments—sought to influence others to adopt industry-preferred positions. Finally, although tobacco control advocates were partially successful in counteracting TII, one self-proclaimed tobacco control group, whose nature remains unclear, threatened the otherwise united approach.

Conclusions The strategies cigarette companies used closely resemble key techniques from the well-evidenced tobacco industry playbook. The study underlines the importance of continuing monitoring and investigations into industry conduct and suspicious actors. Prioritising the implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3 is crucial for advancing tobacco control, particularly in places like Bangladesh, where close government–industry links exist
Original languageEnglish
Article number22-057538
JournalTobacco Control
Early online date25 Apr 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study and ABMZ’s, MHS’, MMH’s and MSA’s time were funded by PROGGA: Knowledge for Progress and the Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs (BCCP). BKM's and ABG’s time was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies' Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products project funding (www.bloomberg.org).

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

Keywords

  • Advocacy
  • Low/Middle income country
  • Packaging and Labelling
  • Public policy
  • Tobacco industry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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