With growing governmental concern over tobacco use, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bangladesh responded with a health rally on May 31—a day designated as World No Tobacco Day—as part of its ongoing community health efforts.
Government reports in Bangladesh indicate more than 40 percent of its residents use tobacco products, and the number is rising. Alarmingly, the Smokeless Tobacco and Public Health: A Global Perspective report released in 2014 by the Center for Disease Control noted that Bangladesh and India are home to 80 percent of the world’s smokeless tobacco users. Bangladesh Health and Family Welfare Minister Mohammad Nasim recently called for a national social movement to combat the increasing problem.
Adventist leaders noticed the prevailing tobacco use in the area around the Adventist headquarters in the capital city of Dhaka, particularly among the rickshaw-pullers who often live below the poverty line and have limited access to medical care and health programs. For them, preventative health measures are a practical approach Adventists can offer.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency Bangladesh (ADRA Bangladesh), Dhaka Seventh-day Adventist Church and Bangladesh Adventist Union Mission (BAUM) Health Ministries Department jointly sponsored the health rally to share what they can offer to the community.
The rally began around 9:00 a.m. at the regional church headquarters and featured a 1.25-mile (2-kilometer) parade through the crowded city streets. The lively procession featured traditional drummers and Adventists who served as live anti-tobacco messages. Dressed in brightly colored Adventist Community Service vests, they carried banners and umbrellas with tobacco cessation slogans and wore yellow caps with “Quit Smoking” in English and Bengali.
Despite the scorching heat and humidity, more than 100 employees and church members from the Bangladesh Union Mission, ADRA Bangladesh, Dhaka Adventist Pre-Seminary and School (DAPS), Adventist Dental Clinic (ADC), and Dhaka Seventh-day Adventist Church joined the parade.
Adventist church leaders such as Myun Ju Lee, president of the Adventist Church in Bangladesh, Sweetie Ritchil, treasurer for the Adventist Church in Bangladesh, and other departmental directors, and four local mission presidents were among those who distributed close to 1,200 pamphlets during the parade.
As a union president with a busy ministry schedule, Lee was very intentional about his participation in the rally. “I’ve seen many rickshaw drivers smoking as they wait for passengers. Today I had the opportunity to be part of a group sharing about the dangers of tobacco and encouraging them to stop using it,” he said. “When they accepted the leaflets about how to be smoke-free, I was happy to be a part of an activity that could have an effect not just on one man but a family and perhaps even a community.”
Reflecting on his experience at the end of the parade, Lee said, “I want to stay involved in these kinds of activities. Isn’t a leader to be an example in every type of ministry? I would like to encourage all leaders to work together with our colleagues.”
In addition to literature, the group gave their caps to rickshaw-pullers and stuck “Say No to Smoking/Have Longevity” stickers on rickshaws, buses, and lampposts.
Adventists in Dhaka shared that they are planning to keep seeking ways to carry their message of positive health choices based on biblical principles to as many city-dwellers as possible.