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Bangladesh: bikers against tobacco
  1. David Simpson

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    Anyone who has been to South Asia will know that the prevailing sound in many of its bustling cities is that of scooters, small motorcycles, and their larger rickshaw siblings, all popping engines and high pitched, raspy hooters as they weave in and out of the traffic in a chaotic, never ending ballet. What interests the young men who ride the bikes? British American Tobacco (BAT) probably reckons pop music is high on the list, and its Star Search promotion for Benson & Hedges cigarettes is geared to such potential customers. The promotion involves a contest for new rock groups which perform at a concert, with one being awarded a trophy. BAT gives out promotional materials, though no big prizes, and gains massive coverage on broadcast media and in newspapers, where it runs high visibility ads in the weeks leading up to the event.

    On 30 May this year, however, a group of scooters and motorcycles converged on Dhaka’s Sheraton Hotel, venue of this year’s Star Search (now in its sixth year), whose riders were far from likely to become BAT customers. These were bikers with a mission, and once at their destination, they presented letters requesting the Sheraton to end its association with Star Search and support the national tobacco control movement instead. They explained to the hotel and the media that Star Search was simply a way of attracting young people to become addicted to cigarettes, and should be banned.

    The rally was organised by Pratyasha, an anti-drug organisation, and the Welfare Association for Cancer Care, with participation by Work for a Better Bangladesh. The two-wheel protest was yet another example of the creative tobacco control and advanced networking for which Bangladesh health advocates have become renowned in recent years. And tobacco industry people may care to reflect that none other than BAT itself helped to galvanise many of them into a coalition in response to its outrageous “Voyage of Discovery” by an ocean going yacht, called, with fitting lack of subtlety, the John Player Gold Leaf (see Tobacco Control 2000;9:130–1).

    Embedded Image

    Bangladesh bikers demonstrating against BAT’s Star Search promotion for Benson & Hedges cigarettes.