Tobacco Industry Country Profile – Bangladesh
- 1 Bangladesh
- 2 Prevalence of Tobacco Use in Bangladesh
- 3 Burden of tobacco use
- 4 Tobacco Industry in Bangladesh
- 5 Illicit Tobacco Trade
- 6 Preventive Measures
- 7 Tobacco Industry Interference
- 8 Notes
Bangladesh, home to a population of 163.7 million people, is a South Asian country encompassing only 147,570 square kilometers. Aspiring to become a middle-income country, Bangladesh has recently made significant progress in different socio-economic sectors. The average literacy rate reached 72.6 %. The infant mortality rate dropped to 24 per thousand births from 163.7 in 1969. Currently, the average rate of school enrollment is at 97.85 %. In 2018-19, the per capita income was USD 1,909. As per the World Bank data, the GDP growth rate for 2018-19 was 7.2 %, second highest in South Asia. Poverty has also fell significantly, with a current rate of poverty of 21.8 % in 2018 which was 40 % in 2005.
Bangladesh achieved its independence from Pakistan on 16 December 1971. However, the country’s colonial legacy can be traced back much further with a 200-year long British Rule that ended in 1947. The first multinational tobacco company in Bangladesh is entangled with its colonial past. British American Tobacco, formerly known as Imperial Tobacco, started its operations in Bangladesh in 1910 and had its first depot in Armanitola, Dhaka in 1947.
Prevalence of Tobacco Use in Bangladesh
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2017, tobacco use in Bangladesh is in the decline. As of 2017, 35.3% of adults (15 years and above) use tobacco in some form. The prevalence of tobacco use among adult women and men are 25.2 % and 46 % respectively. The 2017 GATS data shows an 18.5% relative decline in the use of tobacco since 2009. As per the 2009 GATS, the first one in Bangladesh, the prevalence of tobacco use was at 43.3% among adults.
The tobacco use in Bangladesh is diverse with a huge variety of products. The tobacco products can be divided into two types: smoked and smokeless. In smoked tobacco products, there are manufactured cigarettes and hand-rolled cheap sticks, locally known as bidis. Among the smokeless tobacco (SLT) products, there are jarda and gul, manufactured locally. The percentages of smokeless tobacco and smoked tobacco are 20.6% and 18% respectively. The prevalence of tobacco use also varies based on income and area. The lowest income class (as defined by Wealth Index prepared by GATS) has the highest prevalence of tobacco use which is 48%, as opposed to that of highest-income class where the rate is 24%. The use of tobacco is the highest in Mymensingh Division of the country (48.2%). The use of e-cigarette and other emerging tobacco products, according to GATS 2017, is 0.2%, which is very low compared to the users of traditional tobacco products.
Burden of tobacco use
Tobacco use takes a heavy toll in Bangladesh, considering its effect in both economy and public health. According to Tobacco Atlas, tobacco is the fifth major contributing factor to deaths and disability in Bangladesh. Tobacco causes around 161,200 deaths every year in Bangladesh. The economic loss that tobacco use incurs in Bangladesh stands at approximately BDT 158,578 million. A smoker in Bangladesh, on average, spends around 10% of his monthly income on tobacco.
Child heath is particularly in danger in Bangladesh due to secondhand smoking as a study has revealed that more than 95% of Bangladeshi school-going children have higher levels of nicotine in their body than permissible.
Tobacco Industry in Bangladesh
There are currently (2020) 12 cigarette manufacturing companies in operation in Bangladesh. Despite the entrance of Japan Tobacco Inc. (JTI) in 2018 with the 1.47-billion-dollar acquisition of Dhaka Tobacco Industries (DTI), the market of manufactured cigarettes is still dominated by British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB). As of 2019, BATB holds 62% of cigarette market. JTI holds the second position with 21% market share, a number that has been increasing due to the proliferation of JTI brands. Local companies, mostly Abul Khair Tobacco Company and Nasir Tobacco Company, hold the share of the rest of the market (17%). According to a 2017 World Bank report, cigarette import forms less than 1% of consumption in Bangladesh. Similarly, cigarette exports are also minimal, standing at less than 1% of production. Total production of cigarettes and “bidis” (low-cost, hand-rolled cigarettes) was estimated at 128 billion sticks in FY2016-17.
Unlike manufactured cigarettes, the bidi production in Bangladesh is very fragmented. There is a lack on consensus regarding the total number of bidi manufacturing factories in operation in Bangladesh. A study titled ‘Bidi in Bangladesh: Myth and Reality’ found 117 bidi factories in operation although the number goes up to 9,624 according to many studies, with over 96% of these being home-based.
The production of SLT products, to a considerable extent, is very fragmented and unmonitored. According to National Board of Revenue (NBR), there are more than 400 brands of SLTs available in Bangladesh, with Hakimpuri Zarda and Eagle Gul being the most popular of all SLT brands. 
In 2014, 108,000 hectares of land was used to cultivate tobacco, a figure that was 70,000 hectares in 2013. According to World Bank, the land used to cultivate tobacco between 2011-2018 stands at 105,000 hectares on average. The northern districts of Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Kushtia and also the hilly tracts of Chattogram are considered to be hotspots for tobacco cultivation. There have been widespread reports that government subsidised fertilisers are actually being used to cultivate tobacco in rural areas.
Illicit Tobacco Trade
In Bangladesh, there are reported incidents of tobacco companies attempting to lobby policymakers, claiming that if tobacco taxes are increased, it would lead to an influx of smuggled cigarettes into the country. Such claims have been refuted by a number of studies. A 2019 World Bank study suggests that illicit tobacco trade constitutes only 1.8 % of total tobacco trade in Bangladesh. According to The GATS Atlas data, the average cost of 20 manufactured cigarettes among current smokers, based on PPP (purchasing power parity), is much lower in Bangladesh than in other countries. In Bangladesh, the cost stands art USD 1.2 where the cost is USD 2.9 in India, thus invalidating the claim of illicit tobacco trade.
The government of Bangladesh (GoB) signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003, ratified it the following year. The first tobacco control law, titled the Smoking and Tobacco Products (Usage) Control Act, came into being in 2005 and was later amended in 2013 to make it more effective, although major loopholes still exists. A National Tobacco Control Cell was established in 2007. In January 2016, at the South Asian Speakers’ Summit on Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Prime Minister announced the long-term goal for a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040.
While Bangladesh has one of the highest taxes on tobacco among South Asian countries, faulty taxation structure has made cigarettes cheapest in the world, compared to other countries in the region, says a World Bank report in 2019. According to the report, the abundance of price slabs, currently four in number, allows the users to switch brands once price is increased.
BATB has recently faced a series of scandals when instances of its tax evasions were brought to light by several agencies. It was revealed that in 2013, BATB intentionally mis-categorised two of its high category brands as low category brand and thus evaded taxes amounting to BDT 1,924 crore or GBP 170 million between 2009-10 and 2012-13. After a legal battle, the High Court of Bangladesh ordered BATB to pay the money. Leaked documents released by journalists, revealed that Alison Blake, the British high commissioner to Bangladesh, issued a letter to the Finance Minister asking for an out-of-court settlement on this issue. It should be noted that in 2018, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh released BATB from the obligation as a response to an appeal of the company where it was represented by prominent figures: Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud, Advocate Amin Uddin and Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh (MP).
Graphic Health Warning (GHW)
According to the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act 2013, it is mandatory to print GHW on at least 50% of the main display area of tobacco packets, containers or cartons. This came into force on 19 March 2016. However, a study has found that compliance of GHW is quite lax, particularly in Bidi and SLT industries.
The punishment for advertising tobacco and tobacco products, under the Smoking and Tobacco Products (Usage) Control Act Amended (2013), is a simple imprisonment or a monetary fine not exceeding BDT 100,000 or both the penalties. If the offence is found again, the punishment will be doubled or tripled accordingly.
Tobacco Industry Interference
Based on evidence generated during 2018, the Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2019 placed Bangladesh among the top three in a list of 33 countries that face the highest level of tobacco industry interference. The 2019 index found the Ministry of Industries, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and National Board of Revenue (NBR) under Ministry of Finance to be particularly vulnerable to tobacco industry’s manipulations.
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