To achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh, the prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products should be raised further by imposing more specific taxes, pushing these products beyond the purchasing power of common people, experts said.
They made this demand during a virtual roundtable discussion, 'Tobacco tax and price measures for a tobacco-free Bangladesh: Reality and the way forward,' jointly organised by Progga and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).
Parliament members, economists, journalists and public health experts joined the discussion.
As Progga presented its budget proposals for fiscal year 2021-22 during the event, suggesting that such a proposal would encourage 1.1 million adult smokers to quit, and prevent premature deaths of 390,000 existing smokers and 400,000 youths.
Joining the roundtable discussion, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman of the parliamentary committee on environment, forestry and climate change, said, "Each year before the budget, we raise our voices to increase tobacco taxes. Unfortunately, the national budget never reflects our demands."
Eminent economist and convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, "It is quite frustrating for us to find the NBR saying an increase in tobacco taxes would harm the poor. But the reality is quite different, because it can most benefit the poor."
In addition to supporting the budget proposals, Kholiquzzaman also called for reinstatement of an export duty on tobacco.
Professor Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and former vice chancellor of Dhaka University, said, "I hope those involved in formulating the national budget will incorporate at least some of these demands."
He also focused on including lessons on tobacco's detrimental effects on health in the national curriculum and other co-curricular activities.
Prof Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) suggested that reducing the affordability of cigarettes through tax increases allows people, particularly the poor, to spend more on nutrition and other necessities.
She said that adopting a coordinated plan for tobacco control would push for increasing taxes, raising awareness, and implementing the existing law.
Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) said, one of the major impediments in realising such proposals in the national budget is the government's investment in British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) and the tobacco industry's influence on the NBR.
He urged the finance minister to increase prices of tobacco products in the upcoming budget and also to divest the government's involvement in a tobacco company.
What Progga demanded in its budget proposal
- Introducing a tiered specific excise (supplementary duty or SD) with uniform tax burden (SD share will be 65% of final retail price) for all cigarette brands.
- Retaining the existing 15% value added tax and 1% heath development surcharge on all tobacco products.
- Reducing price tiers from four to two in the medium-term of five years, by reducing the gaps in final prices and tax rates between cigarettes brands.
- For 25 non-filtered bidi sticks, the retail price should be Tk25, of which Tk11.25 will be a specific supplementary duty, while the price for 20 filtered sticks should be kept at Tk20, of which Tk9 will be the specific supplementary duty.
- For SLT products, the price per 10-gram jarda and gul should be Tk45 and Tk25 respectively. A specific supplementary duty of Tk27 should be imposed per 10-gram of jarda, and it should be Tk15 for gul.