Bangladesh tobacco industry tactics for novel product expansion (3)

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Tobacco Industry Marketing and Tricks around ENDs

Data were collected from different sources, while e-cigarette related publications, information and online sites were analyzed and the field survey was conducted about e-cigarette marketing during this research. The survey and research data found evidence of the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics to promote ENDs across Bangladesh. The e-cigarette is expanding in Bangladesh due to aggressive marketing policy of the tobacco industry. As a result of the tobacco industry’s tricks and aggressive marketing policy, the e-cigarette is now not only available in Dhaka, it is also sold in Chattogram, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet, Mymenisngh, Cumilla and Narayanganj (56) and other parts of the country. Tobacco companies are also active in online marketing.

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. Uploading pictures of various vaping devices on its site, Vape Stop on its online site claims, “Dhaka is a popular city which has plenty of adult vapers… and we offer the full variety of e-cigarette kits, box mod vapes, e-juice and e-liquids, pod vapes, and accessories such as tanks and coils (57).” The tactics to expand the e-cigarette market and increase users of vaping products are discussed in more detail below.

1. Tobacco Industry Targets Youth

Tobacco industry are placing misleading arguments for expanding e-cigarette in Bangladesh Many youths now use e-cigarette for style and flavor due to propaganda and promotional activities. The tobacco industry targets Bangladesh for e-cigarette expansion as the country is one of the highest population densities, and the eighth most populous country in the world. The country’s population density is now 1,156.84 people per square kilometer (58). The tobacco industry mainly targets youths (59) as they are the largest population group in Bangladesh. Tobacco and nicotine companies are using the opportunity of a large population group as well as the large number of youths.

The TCRC study finds that tobacco companies are rapidly expanding the e-cigarette market using aggressive marketing strategies (60). Our survey found that e-cigarette consumers at the 50 shops surveyed are mostly youths. Nearly 90% of shopkeepers in interviews during the field level survey answered that, alongside professionals, students are also their main customers, i.e. teenagers and youths. Historically, the tobacco industry targets youth as part of its strategy to build long-term consumers, targeting youths studying in schools, colleges and universities (61). Our findings suggest that they are doing the same with e-cigarette marketing and promotion.

Youths are seen using e-cigarettes openly on the streets, roads, open places and smoking zones of restaurants. Young women are also seen using e-cigarettes while sitting in a rickshaw or on the back of a motorcycle with friend (62). The vaping product is now available in common supermarkets and even on the shops on the sidewalks and shops in all parts of Dhaka city and other parts of the country (63).

2. Use of Social Media to Reach Youth

The tobacco industry uses social sites as part of its tactics and strategies to attract youths and teenagers. They know ‘the vast majority of Bangladeshis own a Smartphone and use social media on a regular basis (64).’ Now there are about 53 million Facebook users in Bangladesh and people aged 18 to 24 are the largest user group (65). The study has been able to find the tactics of the tobacco industry that they use social media for expanding the e-cigarette market in Bangladesh. They use social networking sites, targeting youths who usually remain active in social media.

Many youths use vaping products following the tobacco industry’s promotional activities on social media and online platforms. Most students in Bangladesh, who participated in the DAM study, first heard about e-cigarettes from ads in social media, especially on Facebook and Instagram (66). This study also found similar trends. The students know about e-cigarettes and where to buy them mainly from social networking sites and other online media. About 94% of the participants of the field-level survey in our study said that they use social networking sites to increase sales of e-cigarettes, while 80% of participants said that they use online media for reaching customers.

A vaping festival (67) was arranged in Bangladesh for the first time. It was organized in Dhaka in a way that to encourage youth towards using e-cigarettes. The video of the vaping festival was released on social sites reaching a large number of youths. From these findings, it is clear that the tobacco industry is using social media deliberately to expand e-cigarettes in a way that is attractive to youth.

The study identified the false, tactful and strategic activities of the tobacco companies through monitoring various social networking sites and OTT platforms and their other activities. Voice of Vapers Bangladesh, a recently created platform of vapers in Bangladesh (68), has been arranging various programmes in favour of e-cigarettes. The platform arranged a webinar titled ‘Save Vaping Save Bangladesh’ on September 2 in 2022 and participants of the webinar spoke about e-cigarette’s so-called ‘positive sides’. Speakers of the webinar repeatedly said that e-cigarettes are not harmful to health (69). Video recording of the webinar was spread in social media and other online sites.

3. TI tactics to expand e-cigarette use among low-income population

Bangladesh is a low-income country. The tobacco industry has applied various tactics to reach a large number of the population by offering novel tobacco products at a cheap rate. Some companies bring e-cigarettes into Bangladesh by using a technique known as ‘luggage party (70)’, a known tactic used to dodge tax and duties and supply products at a cheaper rate. ‘Luggage party’ refers to travelers bringing branded cosmetics and devices from different countries claiming that they are for personal use or gifts, but then sell them to retailers, avoiding duties and taxes. Some companies also avoid taxes and levies by importing e-cigarette under the label of electronic devices or medicine products.

4. Industry Media Advocacy

Alongside the use of social media, the tobacco industry also convinces the mainstream media and online activists to promote e-cigarettes. Tobacco companies use mainstream journalists to achieve their purposes by inviting them to their events. The study has received information from two journalists who participated in a promotional programme for e-cigarettes.

One of the journalists is close to some MPs and holds a vital post in the Parliament Journalists’ Association. His name is Kazi Sohagh, a senior reporter of leading national Bengali daily, Manabzamin, based in Dhaka. The journalist admitted taking part in the promotional event during an interview for the study (71). We also learned that journalists have been invited to participate in several other programs intended to promote e-cigarettes.

Companies selling e-cigarettes, including tobacco companies, are implementing various programs using different platforms to promote e-cigarettes through the media. They observed ‘World Vape Day’ in Bangladesh in 2022. On this day, a discussion titled ‘The Need for a Tobacco Harm Reduction Strategy: Achieving the Government’s Health Agenda and Revenue Ambitions’ organized by Voice of Vapers Bangladesh (72) was held at a hotel in Dhaka city on May 31 in 2022, the same day as “World No Tobacco Day” is observed. The event was covered in various media outlets.

Speakers of the World Vape Day event discussed the so-called ‘positive sides’ of e-cigarettes. They said, ‘Vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking’ (73). They called upon policymakers to establish safer alternatives to smoking: such as ‘vaping products as smoking cessation mediums in government’s tobacco control plans.’ At the event Dr Altamash Mahmood, a faculty member of Public Health Nutrition at Bangladesh Open University, termed vaping as a cessation tool and a safer alternative (74) to smoking. The tobacco industry uses such reputable people as part of their tactics. The Voice of Vapers Bangladesh uploaded the video of the event on Over the Top (OTT) platform so that many people can watch their speeches and narratives in favor of e-cigarettes (75).

The Voice of Vapers Bangladesh is arranging many other similar programs. For example, it organized a webinar titled ‘Save Vaping, Save Bangladesh’ 2 September 2022. The event was arranged amid the government’s proposal to ban vape in a new amendment to the country’s tobacco control legislation. The event hosted local and international speakers who said ‘many people are using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool’ (76). The Voice of Vapers Bangladesh works to attain the interest of BAT and other giant tobacco companies as the platform is backed by the Bangladesh Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Traders Association (BENDSTA), which is the platform of all major e-cigarette importers in Bangladesh. The importers are involved in importing BAT’s e-cigarette brand ‘VUSE’ and many other brands of BAT and other tobacco companies.

5. Organized Network to Attract Youth

Tobacco companies have been able to build a countrywide network of e-cigarette businesses. They use computer and mobile phone shops to market e-cigarettes and novel products across the country. They use computer and mobile phone accessory shops because the vaping product is sold as an electronic device and fits in there. These shops are operating with the support of tobacco companies to increase the number of e-cigarette users in Bangladesh.

The study found that BAT and some other companies have helped many shops to develop lounges for e-cigarette users. Picture of such a lounge was mentioned in the report (see page 18). During the field visit of the study, it was found that most of the shops in Dhaka provide a home delivery service for e-cigarettes. Nearly 90% of respondents, who took part in our survey, said that they have an online home delivery service all over Bangladesh. Occasionally they offer a discount or even free home delivery. The home delivery service was developed as part of organized countrywide network.

Tobacco companies thus continue to work in more ways to promote e-cigarettes across the country. Especially, the giant tobacco companies are spreading e-cigarettes through a well-organized network. As a result, e-cigarettes have spread in Bangladesh within a few years.

6. Use of DSA

Tobacco companies are taking advantage of the provision of ‘designated smoking areas (DSA)’ in the national tobacco control law. Using this loophole in the law, tobacco companies are enticing and inducing restaurant owners to establish DSAs (77). 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.

BAT uses a number of such zones for e-cigarette promotion. One of these zones is Gloria Jean’s Coffees which has some branches in Dhaka. A visit was paid to this zone at Dhanmondi in Dhaka and it was seen that BAT’s most popular ‘VUSE’ brand is displayed there. Some people are seen using e-cigarettes in the smoking zone. Like BAT, the wider tobacco industry is making good use of DSAs to expand the e-cigarette market and increase users in Bangladesh. DSAs in many restaurants and lounges for vapers in restaurants, hotels, shops and coffee houses were developed in collaboration with BAT and some other giant tobacco companies. Visits were paid to many other similar smoking zones, coffee houses and lounges for e-cigarette users in different areas in Dhaka city. E-cigarette companies provide incentive for coffee houses and restaurants in a bid to use them for expanding the e- cigarette market and users. The above picture shows a lounge which was developed with the incentive involvement of a tobacco company—BAT.

7. BAT runs outlets from behind the scene

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 ‘VUSE’ products are now available in vaping shops in Bangladesh. The international vape brand ‘VUSE’ is found in the market of the UK as an e-cigarette product of British American Tobacco. The study found 39 outlets (78) in Dhaka city where ‘VUSE’ products are sold in an organized way. Many said that BAT sells products of ‘VUSE’ brand through third parties in the outlets as well as running the 39 outlets from behind the scenes. Sellers of the outlets claim that they are selling the products of ‘VUSE’ brand on behalf of the BAT. Three employees of Gloria Jean’s Coffees at Dhanmondi in Dhaka said that they sell products of VUSE brand from this outlet. They also said that BAT is running the 39 outlets and selling e-cigarette through third parties in shops and restaurants and Gloria Jean’s Coffees is one of the BAT-run shops. Some consumers of e-cigarette at Gloria Jean’s Coffee and some other outlets also said that they know that these are the outlets run by BAT. It is beyond our understanding that BAT is not aware of the huge sale of their products of VUSE brand.

BAT is promoting the ‘VUSE’ brand in the UK with the slogan ‘A Better Tomorrow’. They have taken trademark registration for VUSE brand in the UK under this slogan. They argued for this slogan by saying that ‘We have evolved our strategy to put a sharper focus on our New Category products (79).’ As per BAT’s announcement, VUSE has become the number one global vaping brand with the slogan (80).

However, the company is promoting the ‘A Better Tomorrow’ slogan also in Bangladesh with a sustainability agenda (81). The BAT campaigns the slogan in Bangladesh and uses the slogan in its CSR activities. This will be discussed later in the point for CSR activities. Against this backdrop, we carried out an investigation secretly and collected documents in this regard (82). However, we do not think that the sale of the products of the VUSE brand is happening without the knowledge of BAT. During our investigation, we found sales of ‘VUSE’ products, which are found in the UK, at some outlets in Dhaka of Bangladesh. ‘VUSE’ have been providing the UK vaping market with a range of closed system e-cigarettes and refill cartridges since 2013 (83).

BAT developed DSAs or lounges in many other shops and restaurants. The study also found that BAT is running e-cigarette outlets by registering smokers using National Identity (NID) cards with the aim of creating long-term customers. The assigned employees of BAT in the 39 outlets, what the employees said, sell the ‘VUSE’ brand of e-cigarette without providing money receipts. However, by registering the ‘VUSE’ brand to their customers once they make a sale, the employees maintain regular contact with the registered vapers. From time to time, they send messages of various offers through e-mail and mobile SMS.

BAT runs different online sites to market and promote ‘VUSE’ and other brands. ‘Vapor Cloud’ is one of the online sites of BAT’s e-cigarette products sale (84) and another site is “exclusivebrandsbd”. Customers can collect ‘VUSE’ and products of BAT’s other brands and e-cigarette accessories easily. The e-cigarette products of different BAT’s brands are available in various outlets and online sites. Thus, BAT is playing a vital role in expanding the e-cigarette market and increasing vapers in Bangladesh.

Those who buy a ‘VUSE’ branded tool for the first time from any of BAT-run outlets get a large discount, ranging from 30% to 40%. If anyone buys any other products from these outlets or in a restaurant DSA, they will get a money receipt, but they will not receive a receipt when they buy a ‘VUSE’ branded product. When we bought a vaping device of ‘VUSE’ brand of e-cigarette named ‘Vuse ePod 2’ from an outlet out of 39 and ask for money receipt, employees say that BAT authorities have asked not to give money receipts for these e-cigarette products. We believe this is because BAT is using these outlets without authorization and selling these products in a way that might not be considered legal (85). BAT is depriving the government of tax and VAT due to non-payment of money receipts.

The shops, restaurants, lounges and coffee shops where the ‘VUSE’ brand is sold outside of the 39 outlets BAT manages also maintain confidentiality. In our survey conducted on 50 shops, sellers mentioned various brand names, but most avoided the name of BAT’s VUSE brand. However, during our investigation we have seen that almost all shops carry ‘VUSE’ branded products. The e-cigarette products of VUSE brand are now available in the Bangladesh market.

It could be that the giant tobacco company has been conducting campaign activities before coming to market with its e-cigarette products. BAT has trademark registration for e-cigarettes and various e-related products and brands which have not yet been imported or brought to the Bangladesh market.

Meanwhile, like BAT, JTI also markets e-cigarettes in Bangladesh (86). Like BAT, JTI also has trademark registrations for e-cigarettes and related products. United Dhaka Tobacco Company Ltd (UDTCL), a sister company of JTI, has taken trademark registration for many e-cigarette brands. JTI entered Bangladesh’s tobacco market by acquiring UDTCL for $1.47 billion in 2018 from the Akij Group (87). However, since e-cigarettes are not approved in Bangladesh, the BAT and other tobacco companies are completing trademark registration and other registration process secretly.

JTI came to Bangladesh with the highest-ever investment in the country’s history (88). The Japan-based tobacco company bought the tobacco business of Bangladesh’s Akij Group as the world’s third-biggest cigarette maker seeks new growth markets (89). However, JTI lags behind BAT due to its dominance in the tobacco market in Bangladesh. JTI in 2021 filed a complaint with the Bangladesh Competition Commission against BAT Bangladesh (BATB), alleging that BATB operates to prevent competition in the market and stop rivals from gaining market access (90).


56., Ibid

57., Ibid

58. E- Cigarette: Threat of New dimension of Tobacco – Marketing, distribution and availability in Dhaka City, Ibid

59. The 15-29 years old people in Bangladesh are over one fourth of the total Bangladeshi population. Some giant tobacco companies, particularly the BAT, sell e-cigarette products by bringing consumers under registration through NID cards. However, the NID card is issued at the age of 18. So, although tobacco targets mainly youths, most of the e-cigarette users’ ages are over 18.

60. E- Cigarette: Threat of New dimension of Tobacco – Marketing, distribution and availability in Dhaka City, Ibid


62. Daily Janakantha, November 1, 2022 (

63. Daily Janakantha, November 1, 2022 (



66. E-cigarette Use Among University Students in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Ibid

67. A part of video of the Vaping Festival is attached and sent via e-mail.

68. Weblink of Voice of Vapers Bangladesh is

69. YouTube link of the webinar is

70. The tactful practice of bringing goods duty-free from abroad is known as ‘luggage party’. Almost all of the passengers those who bring goods in suitcases and supply these without going through any import formalities. The luggage party goods are brought in by passengers and airline crew in quantities within the duty-free limit, or sometimes beyond those amounts but without any duty. Travellers bring the goods saying they are for personal use or gifts as the passengers can carry different products on luggage not exceeding a fixed weight without paying any tax or duty.

71. We talked to the journalist- Kazi Sohagh and took his interview. We have a record of his interview.

72. Voice of Vapers Bangladesh is a platform of vape campaigners. The platform is backed by the Bangladesh Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Traders Association (BENDSTA), and official partner of the World Vapers’ Alliance along with 23 other member countries/organizations. BENDSTA was formed in 2020 by all major ENDS (vape) importers in Bangladesh.

73. Dhaka Tribune, 31 May 2022 (

74. Dhaka Tribune, Ibid

75. YouTube link of the event-

76. Daily New Age, September 2, 2022 (

77. Prof. Dr. Md. Habibe Millat, MP, Ban Designated Smoking Areas to Ensure a Tobacco-Free Environment, Daily Sun, 7 December 2021 (

78. The list of BAT-run 39 outlets is mentioned in ‘Annexure-2’




82. The documents and video and audio records in this regard are preserved with us.



85. Firstly, because BAT is not directly selling e-cigarettes publicly and is selling e-cigarettes through third party using licensed shops under other names, so BAT is using the outlets without authorization. Secondly, selling e-cigarette products without money receipt is illegal. However, we found out that they are operating various outlets without getting permission to sell e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, the e-cigarette is not allowed in any law.

86. The Business Standard, 05 July, 2021 (

87. Daily Star, January 24, 2022 (

88. The Business Standard, 05 July, 2021 (


90. Daily Star, January 24, 2022 (