Daily Observer: You are a behavioural scientist and communications expert, could you advise how the community should treat the girls, because very often we talk about equal rights but in reality girls are being treated as burden.
Mira Aghi: The root of this problem is lack of knowledge and information. Unless you get information, you can't make your own decision. I think in this regard campaign and advocacy play an important role. When people are equipped with information and knowledge, they will value and respect girls as much as boys.
Still in different areas of South Asia, if parents are given a choice between a boy and a girl who will go to school, many will choose the boy for going to school, because they have a perception that when they will be older it is the boy who will take care of them. But they do not realize that a girl takes more care of their parents than a boy.
Daily Observer: What are the steps to change this behaviour and how these steps can be taken?
Mira Aghi: Again, the people, I mean the whole society, should be well informed and must have adequate knowledge of a specific subject.
For example, we tell people smoking is bad for our health, still most people are smoking. It is the policymakers, teachers, students all should know about the bad effects of tobacco. In this regard there are four steps which could be followed. Availability of knowledge, knowledge should be understandable, knowledge should be need-based and knowledge should motivate people.
If we say, out of 50 students who are smoking, about 25 are going to die in their prime life. This information not only gives them information but also motivates them.
So what we (should) do is create an enabling environment for the person who wants to give it up and should not keep anything around which would tempt a person to smoke.
Daily Observer: How could media play an effective role for controlling tobacco?
Mira Aghi: Media could play a really very strong role for effective tobacco control everywhere in the world. Through media every day we can give the message that if someone smokes or uses chewing tobacco, lots of diseases can attack him or her. Even, passive smoking or second-hand smoking is equally harmful as smoking itself. So, when media will circulate this information continually, it will work well.
Daily Observer: How do you view the habit of chewing tobacco among women in South-East Asian countries including Bangladesh?
Mira Aghi: I have done quite a bit of work on women and you know that tobacco is used mostly among the poor and uneducated women. And I call them "victim women," who do not have any tool to improve, so I also call them disadvantaged women.
From my own observation I have seen most of the women take tobacco due to frustration, worries, depression and anxiety. Once I met a Muslim woman in Maharastra (India) who used to chew tobacco and paan. When I raised my voice not to, she responded by saying, "This is the only thing I own, except that all belongs to my husband, even my children too." Later with great effort I finally made her to quit it and later she also motivated others not to chew tobacco. So we have to understand the reasons behind their habit.
Daily Observer: Despite exiting Tobacco Control Act in Bangladesh, violation of law is visible everywhere, Could you suggest how law can be implemented successfully?
Mira Aghi: I think the law should be properly implemented, and those who are given responsibilities to implement the law, the enforcement agencies, should have to be trained right now. People should also understand why government made this law. I think it is very important each and every person should help implement the law. So we have to give them knowledge otherwise it would not work.
The law enforcement agencies, rather than collecting fines, should work more on awareness building and make people liable to obey law.
And the billboards inscribed with 'No Smoking' should be everywhere; so people will be aware no-smoking zones.
Daily Observer: We have observed that promotion by tobacco companies in the form of display is also seen. How do you intend to address this?
Mira Aghi: The advertisement is the only thing that tobacco companies do to sell their product. Tobacco companies always need new customers, because at least half of their customers die at an early age due to tobacco use.
And as tobacco consumption is declining in the developed countries, they are coming to the under-develop/developing countries like Bangladesh. These companies give more value to profit than to the lives of the people. Even due to law's barrier, they go for an indirect advertisement or surrogate advertisement. And it is happening due to the loopholes of the law.
Daily Observer: What is your suggestion for comprehensive tobacco control?
Mira Aghi: I think we have the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) is a guideline for comprehensive tobacco control. It is noted that Bangladesh is the first signatory and also ratified it. So, Bangladesh should follow the FCTC and its guidelines properly.
Particularly, tobacco products are cheapest here, so price should increase. Tax of tobacco also should increase gradually. Graphic health warning is the best way to aware people of the danger of tobacco. It is in the law, but it didn't appear on tobacco packets. So, (necessary) rules should be made as soon as possible. Reducing tobacco cultivation also needs to be emphasized. Farmers should get alternate options to cultivate food crops. (Concluded)