A Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) official, named Dr. Rajib Joarder was found publicly endorsing and actively promoting vaping on social media and news media platforms. As of 30 October 2021, Mr. Joarder is posted in Health Service Management and Policymaking department of MoHFW.
Different social media posts suggest that Mr. Rajib actively engaged in Bangladesh Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Traders Association (BENDSTA) and its social media page Voice of Vapers Bangladesh (VoV Bangladesh). The nature of Mr. Joarder’s involvement and the official position he is holding in BENDSTA (if any) is still unclear.
Promotion of Vaping via Social media
Mr. Rajib was found to be actively endorsing and promoting vaping as a smoking cessation tool in a video, published by VoV Bangladesh, a Facebook page run by BENDSTA. Mr. Joarder mentioned his professional identity in detail (including where he was posted at that time), seemingly to give his endorsement a sense of validity.
In the video uploaded on 10 December 2020, Mr. Joarder is found talking about "the beginning of [his] vaping story." He claimed that "our vaping industry is blooming" and contradicting with several statements from World Health Organization (WHO) and other widely-accepted research works, Mr. Joarder also claimed that "Vaping is 100 percent safe." While discussing vaping and the "blooming" of the vaping industry, he also associated himself with this, saying, "Those who are talking against us do not have a legitimate logic." In the video, he was seen having a conversation and vaping together with Schumann Zaman, the president of BENDSTA.
Mr. Joarder, who was the Registrar of the Dept. of Surgery, Dhaka Medical College at that time, admitted that vaping is an addiction but indicating that it may be a good addiction. He later cited an unnamed “unbiased” 300-page journal (2016) of the Royal College of Physicians on Nicotine Harm Reduction to support his arguments against vaping. He differentiated between e-cigarettes and vaping. Mr. Joarder also announced that there is a plan to invite and bring the world’s “high-end vape gear collectors” to Bangladesh after Covid-19 pandemic. He also applauded Voice of Vapers (VoV) as a “very very very very effective initiative” and urged the viewers to “join the Voice of Vapers,” to make the policymakers “acknowledge that vaping is good.”
The video was also uploaded in Voice of Vapers BD website, where he was introduced as “renowned vape collector & vaping aficionado Dr. Rajib Joarder, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW), Bangladesh” in the caption.
A Prothom Alo report, published on February 21, 2021, also mentioned a video interview of Mr. Joarder posted on 10 September 2020 on the Facebook page of Voice of Vapers (VOV) where Mr. Joarder, sitting at Vapor Cloud, a vape gear outlet owned by BENDSTA president Schumann Zaman, endorsed vaping as ‘100 per cent safe’. CRAFT, however, could not find this video dated 10 September 2020, on VoV Bangladesh’s page.
Joarder’s Pro-Vaping Campaign on News Media
On 8 November, 2019, an Op-ed piece written by Dr. Joarder was published in The Independent, where he tried to portray vaping as an effective tool to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040, declared by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 2016. It should be noted that BENDSTA also publicly made such claim on several occasions.
Joarder also defended vaping amid the controversy regarding outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in 2019. He wrote, "It is important for Bangladesh to understand the issue clearly if it is really serious to implement the prime minister’s stated goal of making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040." One month earlier, in October 2019, the then Health Secretary announced in a press briefing that the government might be considering banning vaping in the draft. Addressing such move, Mr. Rajib wrote, "[Vaping] is meant as a harm reduction tool, so that people can use vaping as an aid to quit the significantly more harmful cigarette smoking. The recent move toward a ban shows that lawmakers are not considering crucial facts. Vaping has already been tried and tested as a cigarette quitting aid and it achieved tremendous results.”
Mr. Joarder was also quoted in different news articles on vaping. In an article on Business Post, published on 30 October 2020, titled, "Vaping: Experts stress on framing policy based on facts", he was quoted saying, "The vape-panic is a result of misinformation. Bangladesh needs to be very careful and not jump to conclusions.” He added, “We have over 21.9 million cigarette smokers in the country. Bangladeshi policymakers must take into account the benefits of vaping as a quitting tool. It is not for the underage, and it is not to be recommended to people who do not smoke. It is a harm reduction tool that people can use as an aid to quit the significantly more harmful cigarette smoking. It will be absurd to simply ignore these established facts when making a policy.”
Participation in pro-Vaping Webinar
While addressing a webinar titled "Embrace Healthy Living, Switch to Vaping", organized 21 October 2021, Mr. Joarder, said that the anti-vapors do not have the right ideas about the benefits of vaping. Propaganda says vaping is bad and more dangerous than smoking. If somebody becomes a vapor, he cannot tolerate the smell of cigarette smoke.
Conflict with MoHFW’s Position on Vaping
Mr. Joarder’s endorsement and active promotion of vaping is in grave conflict with the Health Ministry’s position on this issue. On several public events, the Health Minister and influential officials of the Ministry expressed their commitment to ban vaping and other emerging tobacco products (ETPs) through an amendment of tobacco control law.
Mr. Joarder’s comment on vaping also contradicts the World Health Organization’s (WHO) position on this issue. In a WHO newsletter published on 5 February 2020, it was clearly mentioned that "E-cigarettes are harmful to health". In another document, WHO again clearly mentioned that "ENDS emissions typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users and those exposed to the vapours secondhand." WHO also mentioned that “There is growing evidence that ENDS could be associated with lung injuries” and dubbed ENDS’ role in smoke cessation as “unclear” WHO statements stand in stark contrast with Mr. Joarder's video, where he claimed that vaping only contains nicotine, not toxic chemicals.
It should be noted that VoV Bangladesh uses Mr. Joarder’s professional identity on social media posts and releases. Joarder’s comment can easily be mistaken as endorsement of vaping by the Health Ministry.
Other Health Professionals Promoting Vaping
Dr. Mithun Alamgir, Professor and Head of Community Medicine at Enam Medical College in Savar, Dhaka was also found to be very active in promoting vaping as ‘safe alternative’ and ‘effective cessation tools’. His liaison with BENDSTA is quite visible but the nature of involvement is still not clear. Mr. Alamgir wrote an article in the Dhaka Tribune titled Why Banning Vaping will be Unwise” He also wrote similar articles on several widely circulated news outlets.