Of tobacco farming and public smoking

Shihab Sarkar | Published: January 09, 2016 22:29:07 | Updated: October 18, 2017 16:35:54


Except a few highly restricted zones, smoking goes on unabated as before in the country. In both large and small cities, crowded places are filled with smokers. The government's occasional warning to people against smoking in public and declaring the practice a legal offence now sounds like an old ritual. The authorities have repeatedly announced its resolve to slap fines on public-place smokers. But people in the urban areas go on smoking cigarettes with careless abandon. Tobacco smoke plays a considerable role in aggravating our big cities' air pollution. Then there is the lethal hazard of passive smoking.
The unbridled smoking in public places stands in sharp contrast to the government's anti-smoking stance, wobbly though. True, the authorities concerned have taken a few tangible steps. Those include, notably, the banning of advertisements of cigarettes in the mass media. The billboards publicising the pleasure of tobacco smoking have also disappeared. The government passed a tobacco control law in 2005. Smoking has been prohibited on many important premises. Yet the areas around schools and kindergartens have not been made off-limits to smoking passers-by. That the government and the other authorities are still failing us on prevention of smoking in public is stark reality. In the meantime, the fight of anti-smoking activists appears to be stuck in an exercise in futility.
The smoking scenario has of late witnessed a distressing development. According to media reports, vast areas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are now being used for cultivating tobacco. Citing the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) statistics, anti-tobacco campaigners say in the 2012-13 farming season tobacco was cultivated on 70,000 hectares of land. In 2013-14, the acreage grew to 108,000 hectares. In the year of 2014-15, an additional 38, 000 hectares came under tobacco growing. Anti-tobacco activists blame the lack of an effective tobacco farming control policy for the continued increase in its cultivation.
 In the past, the country's northern districts were considered as a region fertile for tobacco growing. In a few decades the focus has been shifted to the CHT pockets inhabited by mostly poverty-stricken farmers. A number of cigarette companies have allegedly been providing incentives to them to cultivate tobacco. In the recent years, scores of peasants have been lured into tobacco farming. It is said to be more lucrative than cultivation of other crops. The fact that the switching over to tobacco from the major crops emerges as a threat to food security eludes them. There is none around to clarify the bitter reality to the innocent farmers. The tobacco companies do their best to hide from them the damages caused by tobacco smoke to human health and the environment. Maybe due to this, the government campaigns to encourage farmers to grow alternative crops are failing. Many people smell a rat in the whole game. They point the finger at a nexus between tobacco enterprises and a section of unscrupulous quarters in the administration.
The government in principle has long been engaged in an all-out war on tobacco use. It has ratified the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The convention aims to enforce tobacco control measures.
Given this principled stand on tobacco, a steady increase in the plant's cultivation and feet-dragging on restricting smoking confounds many. The government should act --- the earlier the better.
shihabskr@ymail.com
 

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