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Tobacco growing raises food-security concerns

| May 12, 2015

Food security, public health and the environment are under threat in parts of Bangladesh because of a rise in tobacco cultivation, according to a story in The Financial Express.

Khiating Soye, chairman of Rajbila’s Union Parishad (local council) at Sadar Upazila, Bandarban district, is said to have alleged that tobacco companies have been offering cash incentives to local farmers in an attempt to get them to grow tobacco.

The chairman was speaking at Jamchhari village with 22 visiting journalists, who were said to have found ‘massive tobacco farming’ at Jamchhari, Ruma, Lama, Alikadam, Thanchi, Nikhyangchhari, Rowangchhari and Sadar Upazila. Tobacco is said to be produced, also, at Kaptai, Barkal, Rajasthali, Baghaichhari, Jurachhari, Longudu and Bilaichhari in the Rangamati district, and at Dighinala, Mainee valley, Panchhari and Ramgarh in the Khagrachhari district.

Soye said that according to environmentalists at least 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes of firewood were being burnt in 2,000 tobacco processing barns every year, causing the depletion of forests and threatening the environment and ecology of the hills.

Meanwhile, Nazrul Islam Titu, a correspondent for an electronic media organisation, reported that most of the farmers in the hilly districts were losing interest in cultivating indigenous crops such as paddy, banana, maize, sesame, cotton, potato and pumpkin as they became defaulters of the loans provided by the tobacco companies.

E-cigarette companies band together to fight ban

| May 12, 2015

Five electronic cigarette companies operating in Hong Kong have formed the Asian Vape Association to oppose the government’s plan to ban electronic-cigarette sales, according to a story in the South China Morning Post relayed by the TMA.

Nav Lalji, one of the founders of the association, was quoted as saying the government should regulate rather than ban these products if it is concerned about product ingredients.

He questioned why the government was not banning combustible tobacco products firstly if it was worried about public health.

Lalji, who is the founder and manufacturer of the electronic cigarette brand Mist, said the association included major players in the electronic cigarette industry that accounted for about 70 percent of the local market.

He rejected claims made by some health officials that the companies were targeting young people and selling the devices as ‘trendy products’.

Electronic cigarettes were sold to adults at hotels, restaurants and bars, he said; and while the devices contained nicotine, they complied with the international safety standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Currently, there are no age restrictions on the sale in Hong Kong of electronic cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine.

Electronic cigarettes with more than 0.1 percent of nicotine need to be registered as a pharmacy product with the health department.

The undersecretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, said many vaporizers contained substances that were “addictive and hazardous to health.”

But Chan said the association could negotiate with the government over the proposed city-wide ban on electronic cigarette sales, which is expected to be presented to the Legislative Council later this year.

Social acceptability disguises shisha health threat

| May 11, 2015

Health experts are warning that Shisha smoking is so socially acceptable in Bahrain that its dangers are being ignored, according to a Gulf Daily News story.

The News said that the dangers of using traditional tobacco pipes were highlighted last week when a 20-year-old woman was taken to hospital in Sydney, Australia, reportedly suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning after smoking shisha for an hour every day.

Dr. Babu Ramachandran, head of anti-smoking at the American Mission Hospital (AMH), was quoted as saying that what had happened in Sydney was probably an isolated incident. The woman in question probably had other underlying conditions that caused her to suffer carbon monoxide poisoning; so there was no need to panic.

“But it is true that smoking shisha for an hour is as harmful as smoking 100 cigarettes and there are genuine heath concerns that may arise from habitual smoking, but these are commonly overlooked,” he said.

“In many ways shisha smoking is more dangerous than cigarettes because it is more appealing as it comes in different flavours.

“There is also the misconception that when the smoke goes through water most of the bad chemicals are filtered out, which is simply not true.”

Ramachandran is concerned that local mores make it difficult to counter shisha smoking. Shisha was so ingrained in the culture that visiting a café would sometimes be considered a family outing. “In fact no one has ever come into the AMH anti-smoking centre saying they were addicted to shisha and needed help to quit,” he said.

The reason why shisha smoking hadn’t caused a huge number of health issues, Ramachandran suggested, was because shisha smoking was not as easy or as widespread as cigarette smoking, and because most people had to go to a place and spend time consuming shisha.

“If it became easier to smoke it on the run I am sure we would see a lot more shisha-related illnesses,” he said.

Smoke-free products deliver benefits of quitting

| May 11, 2015

In a commentary in the Signal Tribune, California, a health expert has hit out against US tobacco policy that insists on smokers quitting tobacco and nicotine altogether.

Dr. Brad Rodu is a professor of medicine and holds an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

Rodu argues that switching to snus or electronic cigarettes yields almost all of the health benefits of quitting smoking altogether.

His piece is at: http://www.signaltribunenewspaper.com/?p=27428.

Some doubt that China’s tax rise will reach smokers

| May 11, 2015

China announced on Friday that it would raise the wholesale consumption tax on cigarettes from Sunday, according to a Xinhua News Agency story citing a statement jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the State Administration of Taxation.

The tax rate imposed on cigarette wholesalers on the basis of taxable prices was due to be increased from five percent to 11 percent, and wholesalers would have to pay an additional Yuan0.005 (less than US 1¢) for each cigarette they sold, the statement said.

There was no explanation of why the tax increase was being imposed.

The MOF’s Research Institute for Fiscal Science said that if the higher tax were passed on to cigarette consumers, they would pay seven percent more for the average pack of cigarettes. According to a story in The Star, Kuala Lumpur, also announcing the tax rise, a tax increase in 2009 had not been passed on to consumers.

If the increase is passed on, it is expected to cut cigarette consumption by four to five percent and add Yuan100 billion to annual tax revenue, according to statistics from the research institute.

Last year, the industry paid Yuan911 billion in taxes, which amounted to 8.8 percent of total tax revenue. This year the industry is expected to hand over more than Yuan1 trillion.

Smokers might not be popular but their taxes are

| May 11, 2015

The government of Bangladesh has been told that it should increase tobacco taxes in order to achieve its revenue target for the next financial year, according to a story in The Daily Star.

“We have to put more emphasis on taxation of tobacco products..,” said Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, which describes itself as a private, non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of the Bangladesh economy.

Mansur was speaking at a seminar on ‘Fiscal policy for 2015-16 budget in the context of the Seventh Plan’ co-organised by PRI and UKaid at the PRI office in Dhaka.

Focusing on the tobacco sector was said to be needed to achieve the revenue target since the implementation of structural reforms in VAT and other areas of taxation had not yet gained momentum, Mansur said.

The weighted average prices of bidis and cigarettes were quite low in Bangladesh and increasing the rate of taxation on them was the only way to reduce smoking and generate 20 percent year-on-year growth in revenue from tobacco products.

Mansur said that, in line with global best practices, Bangladesh should move to a uniform tax structure for all smoked tobacco products.

The Finance Minister, A.M.A. Muhith, said the government would consider during upcoming budget discussions the proposals made by the PRI.

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