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Bangladesh: not a cigarette paper

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Mr Sadeque Chowdhury, chairman of “Bhorer Kagoj”, a national newspaper in Bangladesh which began an anti-tobacco campaign in May.

On 12 May, a national newspaper in Bangladesh, Bhorer Kagoj, launched an ongoing campaign against tobacco, declaring itself free of tobacco advertising in the process. Since then, it has published a continuous stream of articles on tobacco almost daily, usually including spots on the front or back pages, ranging from a forthright piece by the proprietor explaining the paper’s stand, to detailed coverage of various aspects of the tobacco problem in the weekly advice page. Numerous readers, as well as organisations working on social issues, have written in to voice their appreciation and support.

Bhorer Kagoj was started in 1990 by a company with wide-ranging business and commercial interests, and circulates throughout the country. It has won a reputation for reliability and independence, and its core readership consists of educated and professional groups, and college and university students. The chairman, Mr Sadeque Chowdhury, is clearly a man who is not content to sit back if he feels something more could be done, and it seemed to him that existing agencies had neither the resources nor the opportunities to implement a sustained and effective campaign. “Our objective is to create more awareness of the dangers of tobacco smoking amongst the public, and specifically youngsters, who are the target of the tobacco firms,” he said, as the campaign was being planned, “and advise [people] on ways to quit smoking.” He added that they also wanted to avoid reporting social events sponsored by tobacco companies, so as not to give them publicity, though he acknowledged that it would be difficult covering sport without mentioning brand names, because in Bangladesh, as in so many other countries, sport is increasingly tied up with tobacco.

Bhorer Kagoj is certainly the first newspaper in Bangladesh to take a stand like this, and possibly the first in Asia. World No-Tobacco Day (31 May) saw a number of seminars and rallies held in various parts of the countries. One of these was sponsored by anti-tobacco group ADHUNIK and inaugurated by the President of Bangladesh, who presented Mr Chowdhury with the President’s ADHUNIK Medal, for the paper’s anti-smoking campaign role. The Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh also presented the newspaper with a crest commending its position in the face of loss of commercial gain.

Meanwhile, BAT seems to have increased its advertising campaign in the print media, and to be adopting a higher corporate profile. The company recently changed the name of its local subsidiary from Bangladesh Tobacco Company to British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB), a move which seems in keeping with a trend to a more aggressive, transnational marketing and operational style. An interesting spin-off from the Bhorer Kagoj campaign has been BATB’s response when told that the paper would no longer carry its cigarette ads. BATB sent the newspaper photocopies of the discredited articles in the British Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, together with similar pages from The Economist, which had slavishly followed the same line. These articles purported to show that the World Health Organisation had found passive smoking to be harmless, and had then suppressed its findings (see Tobacco Control 1998;7:119–20; andBMJ 1998;316:945).

Welcome to the world war on tobacco, Bhorer Kagoj. We wish you every success.