The Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has asked the Ministry of Commerce to remove cigarettes from the essential commodities list, reports The Business Standard. The removal is necessary to help the government achieve its “tobacco-free Bangladesh” objectives, according to the health ministry.
Any product covered by the Essential Commodities Act enacted 66 years ago can be freely promoted for wholesale and retail, and no restrictions can be imposed on the marketing of these products, even under emergency circumstances.
Workers in the essential commodities sector cannot strike, and no essential commodities can be hoarded. The essential commodities list was created when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan. Over the years, new products, including palm oils, turmeric and cumin, have been added, but none have been taken off. Other products on the list include typewriters, 35 mm (cine) raw films and sewing machines.
The law permitted tobacco companies to continue operating through the Covid-19 pandemic, even as other factories, including in Bangladesh’s garment industry—the country’s main export sector—were shut down.
In 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set a goal to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040.
Because cigarettes are listed as an essential product, however, it is impossible for the government to fully implement the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act.
Further complicating matters, cigarettes are the largest source of government revenue. The National Board of Revenue collected BDT278.3 billion ($2.95 billion) in value-added tax and excise duty from cigarettes in fiscal year 2021–2022.
According to the Bangladesh Cancer Society, the government spent BDT305.7 billion in fiscal year 2017–2018 to treat patients with tobacco-related illnesses.