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July 12, 2017

Bangladesh Ministry’s Order on Tobacco Pack Warnings is a Victory for Health

(Dhaka, Bangladesh and New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today congratulated the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Bangladesh on a new order, obliging the tobacco industry to comply with the regulations on graphic health warnings. This is set out in Section 10 of the country’s Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 (Amended 2013) and Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Regulations, 2015 (S.R.O. No. 58).

The Law mandates that one of nine graphic health warnings are shown on the top 50 percent of the main side of all tobacco packs – including bidis, cigarettes and all forms of smokeless tobacco – sold in Bangladesh from 19th March 2016. However, pressure from the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association (BCMA) meant the Ministry of Law issued a temporary order, from the National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC), allowing the warnings to be printed on the lower half of tobacco packaging where they are not as effective. The new order from NTCC on July 4th replaces that interim order and ensures the legislation is enacted as intended, from 19 September 2017.

José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies commented: “The tobacco industry has been desperate to stop graphic warnings on tobacco packs, because they remind every current tobacco user and every young person thinking about using tobacco that it causes deadly harm to people just like them. These graphic warnings are more visible and more effective if they are printed on the top half of packs, which is exactly why the tobacco industry has been printing them on the lower half of the pack. Unable to delay or derail the implementation of graphic warnings, they have sought to minimize the effect as much as possible. We applaud tobacco control and health advocates in Bangladesh who have worked tirelessly to highlight this issue and the National Tobacco Control Cell and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for issuing this order to better protect Bangladeshis from the harms of tobacco.”

Shafiqul Islam, Head of Programs – Bangladesh, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies, continued: “As strong advocates of best practice, detailed in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and MPOWER measures, we ensured that our “People Behind the Packs” campaign featured tobacco packs carrying graphic warnings in the correct, upper position of the packaging. Viewers were able to see very clearly that the condition of the tobacco victim was reflected in the graphic warning on the pack they were holding.

“We are delighted that the tobacco industry now will be obliged to adhere to this standard, but we can go even further. As we look to other countries in the region, like India with graphic warnings covering 85 percent of tobacco packs and Nepal with 90 percent, it is clear that there is a trend to implement larger graphic warnings that deliver an even greater impact. We strongly urge Bangladesh’s government to consider further increasing the size of graphic warnings on tobacco packs to protect current and future generations.”

The “People Behind the Packs” Campaign

When graphic warnings were first implemented in 2016, Vital Strategies supported a mass media campaign entitled People Behind the Packs to draw attention to the warnings. The series of four, 30-second Public Service Announcements (PSAs) featured patients receiving treatment from cancer hospitals in Dhaka, holding up cigarette packs that carry a health warning related to their specific illness. The campaign’s key message was: “There are now new health warnings on all tobacco packs – See them and believe them!” Research conducted by Vital Strategies indicated that the PSAs would be effective in helping to encourage behavior change.

According to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco is the cause of 14.6% percent of adult male deaths and 5.7% percent of adult female deaths in Bangladesh – more than the average in other low-income countries. Tobacco-related disease – including stroke – kills almost 100,000 Bangladeshis every year while another 382,000 suffer from chronic illnesses caused by tobacco. That burden will only continue to increase as more than 164,000 Bangladeshi children and more than 25 million Bangladeshi adults use tobacco daily, with the number of tobacco users still growing.

Research has shown that mass media campaigns and large graphic pack warnings are among the most effective means to encourage people to stop using tobacco. Hard-hitting campaigns and images can compel tobacco users to quit, increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, and promote behavior change in both smokers and non-smokers. They are featured in the World Health Organization’s M-P-O-W-E-R (W=Warn) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which Vital Strategies is a principal partner.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

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