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Grisly warnings on cigarette packs shock Bangladeshis

Rickshaw puller Kawsar Islam was a chain smoker. But once the health risks from smoking became clear to him, he drastically cut down the number of cigarettes he smoked. He is now seriously planning to kick his addiction for good.

The reason? The recently introduced grisly images on both sides of cigarettes packets.

Islam, 29, has been smoking for 12-13 years. Like Islam, many in Bangladesh’s capital are now actively contemplating quitting smoking permanently.

“I’ve been smoking since around 1972 or 1973,” said an official while enjoying a puff at a roadside tea stall in Dhaka.

The official said that despite knowing about the harmful effects of smoking on the body, smoking is a habit hard to quit.

But he is also now committed to stop smoking like the rickshaw puller and said he was smoking far less, day by day.

There are many like them trying to quit smoking permanently owing to the grisly images on both sides of cigarettes packets.

“I’m really appalled to see the gruesome images,” said Islam, who also has a chewing tobacco habit.

From March 19, under a new law, the Bangladesh government made it mandatory for tobacco companies to print graphic pictorial warnings covering the upper half of each pack of cigarettes.

“Instead of smoking a full packet daily, now I just smoke 2-3 cigarettes,” the official said. “I don’t want to see those hideous images printed on the cigarette packs any more.

“I’ve already stopped buying a full pack of cigarettes every day.”

Some other smokers said they have also been appalled to see the distressing, graphic images of malignant tumors, blackened lungs and mouth cancers appearing on cigarette packages.

Anti-tobacco lobbyists in Bangladesh say more Bangladeshis, especially illiterate people who know little about the harmful effects of smoking, will quit smoking when manufactures totally stop marketing all kinds of tobacco products without pictorial health warnings.

ABM Zubair, the executive director of an anti-tobacco group named ‘Progga’, said a survey conducted two weeks after the implementation of the new law found that 74.8 percent of tobacco products are still being marketed without any pictorial health warnings.

The survey also revealed that health warning labels covered merely a little more than half of the cigarette packages and the number of packets of Bidis with pictorial health warnings was nil, he said.

Bidis are hand-rolled thin cigarettes that are popular with the working classes for their affordability.

According to the leading anti-tobacco lobbyist, graphic pictures on tobacco packages will be highly effective in discouraging illiterate people from smoking in Bangladesh where about 43 percent of adults are smokers.

Zubair further said many countries around the world have already introduced pictorial warnings on tobacco products and it was found later that tobacco consumption had reduced in those countries.

Activists allege that the tobacco industry resorts to various tricks to prevent governments from implementing the law that makes it mandatory to carry warning labels with graphic health images of decayed teeth, cancerous mouths and other frightful and highly-visual effects that smoking can have on health.

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