Bangladesh tobacco industry tactics for novel product expansion

Executive Summary

The Prime Minister has committed to make Bangladesh a tobacco-free country by 2040. However, the tobacco industry applies various tactics to rapidly expand the e-cigarette market in order to foil the ‘Tobacco-free Bangladesh’ goal. Against this backdrop, although rate of smokers is declining in proportion to the population, the use of e-cigarette increased in the last couple of years. It is becoming popular among the youth due to various tactics and promotional activities by the multinational tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry introduced e-cigarette in Bangladesh just years after it was introduced in global market in 2006. Although there is great health risk, no effective steps have yet been taken to stop it. And no step has yet been taken to stop the tactics, influence and promotional activities of the tobacco industry. The study was carried out to reveal unknown information about the presence of e-cigarettes. However, the main focus is to find out the tactics, plans and activities of leading tobacco companies about expansion of the e-cigarette market.

Research Methodology

The six-month study was carried out in 2022. Data were collected in various ways. Various publications and documents collected from government and non-government offices were reviewed, while various data were collected from the field directly. All the issues of ‘THE TRADE MARKS JOURNAL’, published from January 2000 to December 2021, were collected and reviewed to get detailed information about trademark registration, marketing and import of e-cigarette. Visit was paid to Chattogram to find out information regarding e-cigarette importation. Visits were also paid to various vaping shops in Dhaka to find out the involvement of leading tobacco companies in expanding the e-cigarette market and to get a general picture of e-cigarette sale in Bangladesh.
Visits were paid to different restaurants, coffee shops and specific lounges for e-cigarette users developed by tobacco companies. A survey was conducted on 50 vaping shops of retailers in Dhaka city, various online sites of e-cigarette sales were reviewed, and tobacco related laws and regulations were analyzed.


The study found evidence that the e-cigarette is expanding in Bangladesh due to aggressive marketing policy of the tobacco industry. The e-cigarette is now not only available in Dhaka, it is also sold in other parts of the country.

The tobacco industry mainly targets Bangladesh as youths are the largest population group in the country. Historically, the tobacco industry targets youth as part of its strategy to build long-term consumers. Our survey found that e-cigarette consumers are mostly youths. 95% of e-cigarette retail sellers said that students are among the main customers of vaping products.

The study found several online sites of e-cigarette sales. As part of tactics, the tobacco companies patronize other online platforms to spread e-cigarettes. The tobacco industry uses social media sites to target youths who are typically active on social media. 80% of shops included in our survey use both the online platforms and social networking sites to expand their e-cigarette businesses, while 94% of shops use social networking sites for reaching customers.

The participants in the survey said that they also use off-line media to increase e-cigarette sales. Most students first heard about e-cigarettes from ads in social media. A vaping festival was arranged for the first time in Bangladesh to encourage youths to use e-cigarettes.

As Bangladesh is a low-income country, the tobacco industry applies tactics to reach a large number of the population by offering the products at a cheap rate. Previously, most e-cigarette shops were found in wealthy areas of Dhaka. Now, e-cigarette shops are found everywhere in Dhaka. The survey of shops found only 22% have been selling e-cigarettes for five years or a little more. The remaining 78% e-cigarette outlets started within the last five years (after 2016).

Products of many giant tobacco companies are now available in vaping shops in Bangladesh. In many places, shops are not only selling on their own initiative supplied by tobacco companies, e-cigarettes are also being sold in various shops and restaurants under direct supervision of some leading tobacco companies.

The study found that a multinational tobacco company is selling e-cigarette in Bangladesh secretary. The giant tobacco company uses third party in this regard. It runs at least 39 outlets in Dhaka city from behind the scenes where products of a specific brand are sold in an organized way. However, the tobacco company does not say that they are running these outlets. During our investigation, we found sales of the products of the specific brand, which are found in the UK, at many outlets in Dhaka.

The particular tobacco company has taken trademark registration for the brand in the UK under a particular slogan, while it is also promoting the slogan in Bangladesh. It has taken trademark registration for e-cigarette brands with this slogan. the giant tobacco company runs the 39 outlets without authorization, and is depriving the government of tax and VAT. It is running its e-cigarette business by registering its customers’ details to maintain regular contact and to encourage youths towards e-cigarette secretly. However, its activities in selling e-cigarettes are mysterious.

The tobacco company developed DSAs or lounges in many other shops and restaurants. The shops, restaurants, lounges and coffee shops where the specific brand is sold outside of the 39 outlets the giant tobacco company manages also maintain confidentiality. They have trademark registration for e-cigarettes and various e-related products and brands which have not yet been imported or brought to the Bangladesh market. Thus, the leading tobacco company is playing a vital role in expanding the e-cigarette market and increasing vapers in Bangladesh. Many other multinational tobacco companies also have trademark registrations for e-cigarettes. Tobacco companies have taken trademark registration for many e-cigarette brands secretly as e-cigarettes are not approved in Bangladesh.

No existing law addresses the e-cigarette issue. This paves the way for the tobacco industry to obtain legitimacy of e-cigarette business through applying various tactics. Importing e-cigarettes through getting approval from the authorities concerned and paying tax and duties are the part of the tactics for legalization. There was no legal order regarding e-cigarette import before 2018. Allowing the import is a process of legalization on the one hand, and by paying taxes and duties on the other, the tobacco industry will argue that since the import is increasing Bangladesh’s revenue through taxes and VAT, e-cigarette needs to be legalized. Trademark registration is another tactic for legalization. Some giant tobacco companies have taken trademark registrations for some e-cigarette products, which have not yet come to Bangladesh.

Tobacco and nicotine companies are also taking advantage of the provision of ‘Designated Smoking Area (DSA)’ in the tobacco control law. The tobacco industry is making good use of the DSAs to expand the e-cigarette market and increase its users in Bangladesh. Many people use e-cigarette there. In many restaurants in Dhaka city, DSAs were developed in collaboration with some leading tobacco companies. E-cigarette companies even provide intensive for DSA development. A leading tobacco company also developed a number of lounges in many places in Dhaka city. Since there is no mention of e-cigarettes in the law, it is another trick for the tobacco companies that they are indirectly using these zones as legal zones for the use of e-cigarettes.

Tobacco companies have built countrywide organized networks to expand e-cigarette. They have developed specific e-cigarette zones and use computer and mobile phone shops to market e-cigarettes. During the field visit, it was found that most of the shops in Dhaka provide a home delivery service for e-cigarettes. 90% of respondents in our survey said that they have an online home delivery service all over Bangladesh. The home delivery service was developed as part of organized countrywide network.

However, e-cigarette traders are working to thwart the goal of making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040. Tobacco and nicotine companies are now working hard to thwart the government’s plan to amend the control law and the planned provision to ban the e-cigarette. Tobacco companies are also using various platforms to thwart the government’s plan. Some platforms arrange programs in favor of e-cigarette. Some of the platforms observed the World Vape Day in Bangladesh with some demands in favor of e-cigarette and its users. The tobacco industry tries to convince policymakers and others by presenting its narrative that ‘e-cigarettes, vaping and heated tobacco products as safer alternatives’. The tobacco industry uses CSR programmes to promote e-cigarettes and get closer to policymakers. The giant tobacco companies use leading companies of other sectors through CSR activities.

Key Recommendations

If the activities of giant tobacco companies continue in e-cigarette expansion, the goal of making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040 won’t be achieved, while the country will potentially face health and economic losses amid a huge increase of vapors. So, e-cigarettes must be stopped immediately. Based on the findings of this study, we present the following recommendations:

1. Production, import-export, promotion, marketing and consumption of e-cigarettes should be banned in Bangladesh as soon as possible through national legislation.
2. E-cigarette importation should be stopped immediately. The government should take effective steps to ensure that e-cigarettes are not imported under any other name, such as “electronic devices”.
3. Whether at the instigation of tobacco companies or otherwise, e-cigarette sales centers and other shops selling e-cigarettes should be stopped and surveillance activities should be adopted to enforce this.
4. CSR activities and events such as vaping festivals which encourage youth to vape should not be allowed.
5. Organizations that are speaking publicly in favor of e-cigarettes and encouraging people to vape by organizing events and presenting their arguments in favor of e-cigarettes to the government should be monitored.
6. The National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) of Bangladesh must move for banning e-cigarettes and related products. The NTCC should raise awareness over the negative impact of e-cigarettes.
7. A separate committee or section should be formed under the NTCC to prevent the tobacco industry from expanding the e-cigarette market.

The study was carried out by
Ehsanul Haque/Syed Saiful Alam

(Ehsanul Haque is a journalist and also Ph.D researcher in Dhaka University. Syed Saiful Alam is a rights activist and a researcher on tobacco control)

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