File photo of A rickshaw-puller smokes a cigarette on a Dhaka street on June 11, Thursday, 2020 Md Manik/Dhaka Tribune
Speakers at a roundtable said their budget proposal would encourage 1.1 million adult smokers to quit, prevent premature deaths of 390,000 existing smokers and 400,000 youths
To achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh, the prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products should be increased through specific taxation, speakers at a roundtable have said.
MPs, economists, journalists and public health experts expressed such views on Monday during a virtual roundtable, jointly organized by Progga (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA), titled “Tobacco Tax and Price Measures for a Tobacco-Free Bangladesh: Reality and the Way Forward.”
They opined that increasing the prices of tobacco products through effective taxation discourages the youth to start tobacco use as well as encourage the existing users, particularly those financially vulnerable, to quit, reads a press release published by Progga on Monday.
As Progga presented its budget proposals for FY 2021-22 during the event, its estimation says implementation of such proposal would encourage 1.1 million adult smokers to quit, prevent premature deaths of 390,000 existing smokers and 400,000 youths.
The proposals regarding supplementary duty, health development surcharge and VAT on cigarettes would also earn the government an additional Tk3,400 crore in revenues, added the release.
During the roundtable, Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, said: “Each year before the budget, we raise our demands to increase tobacco taxes. Unfortunately, the national budget never reflects our demands.
Eminent economist and the Convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said: “It is quite frustrating for us to find NBR saying the increase in tobacco taxes would harm the poor. The reality is quite the contrary. An increase in tobacco taxes benefits the poor the most.”
Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, says he hopes at least some of the demands would be incorporated in the national budget.
Dr Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), said, one of the major impediments in realizing such proposals in the national budget is the government’s investment in British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) as well as the tobacco industry’s influence on NBR.
The Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), Dr Mahfuz Kabir said, the users of low-tier cigarettes constitute around 70% of total smokers.
“So, if we can increase the price of this tier through specific taxation and raise it closer to the medium-tier, it would not only reduce use but also increase government revenue manifold,” he said.
Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Director General Meerjady Flora, Associate Editor of the Daily Prothom Alo Abdul Quayum, Editor-in-Chief of TV Today Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, lead Policy Advisor for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) Md Mostafizur Rahman spoke among others.
The event was hosted by Nadira Kiron, co-convener of ATMA. The budget proposals were presented by Md Hasan Shahriar, project head of Tobacco Control, PROGGA. Among those present were also Convener of ATMA Mortuza Haider Liton, Executive Director of PROGGA ABM Zubair, and representatives of anti-tobacco organizations and media outlets.