World Health Organization (WHO) has recently informed that lungs hooked on tobacco are at a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19. In Bangladesh, about 40 million adults who use tobacco products are currently at a grave risk of severe coronavirus infection.
Increasing prices of tobacco products in the upcoming budget will reduce the tobacco consumption and also generate additional revenue of Tk11,000 crore, said economists in a webinar titled "The Type of Tobacco Tax We Want, Budget 2020-21 on Tuesday".
The additional revenues can be utilised to bear coronavirus related medical expenses and implementation of stimulus packages, said the economists and lawmakers at the virtual event organised jointly by Progga and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (Atma).
Supporting the proposal, economist and convener of National Anti-Tobacco Platform Dr Qazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmad said, "Corona has opened up an opportunity for us. We shall opt for the path of welfare in this opportunity. In that case, we must control the use of tobacco products and emphasise public health management."
Member of Parliament Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, "If this year's national budget sees no fundamental change in the taxation of tobacco products and we lose this opportunity of additional revenue of Tk11,000 crore, and also if consequently, all these deaths and illness persists, I am afraid I cannot support this budget on moral and ethical grounds."
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, highlighted that, in order to curb smoking, there is no alternative to reducing the number of cigarette price tiers.
She said, "In the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2020-21, the existing four tiers of cigarette prices must be eliminated and only two tiers should be introduced as multiple price tiers provide consumers an opportunity to switch."
"For this reason, price and tax measures for reducing tobacco use fail to work effectively as intended," she added.
She also emphasised the importance of awareness-building activities for tobacco control.
Criticising the letters issued by members of parliament in favor of not increasing tobacco tax, Professor Dr Habibe Millat MP said, "We must strengthen our forces further against tobacco."
Supporting the proposed tax and price initiative, he said that, "during this year's budget session, we will motivate at least 150 parliamentarians to speak in favor of implementing this proposal."
Dr Rumana Huque, professor at Department of Economics in University of Dhaka, said while more than half of the tobacco consumers in the country use smokeless tobacco products, the prices of these products are still very cheap.
She said, "The base price of taxation for smokeless tobacco products is very low, so the prices of these products should be raised alongside raising its taxes."
She further mentioned that unlicensed producers need to be brought under tax net as well.
Member of Parliament Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary thinks that the parliamentarians should play a key role throughout the year on implementing tobacco price and tax measures.
He said, "Members of parliament can question and discuss tobacco issues during the parliamentary sessions throughout the year."
He also said, "We need to turn tobacco products into an expensive commodity. This will increase prices, generate additional revenue as well as discourage people in using tobacco products."