The Economic Reporters Forum, Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Coalition and Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust jointly organised a discussion on Sunday on the necessity of imposing specific taxes on tobacco products.
The keynote address was delivered by Professor of Economics of Dhaka University Dr Rumana Haque, read a press release.
In her speech, Rumana Haque presenting her article, said that due to the government's initiatives, the number of tobacco users has decreased over the years.
She said that in 2009, of people over the age of 15, around 43% used tobacco, while in 2017, the percentage was 35%. Haque urged that this trend be maintained.
She recommended imposing specific taxes on tobacco products and abolishing the prevailing tier system. "Properly raising taxes on tobacco will increase revenue and, in turn, reduce the number of tobacco users," she added.
Rumana Haque told reporters that a joint study by the Dhaka University Department of Economics and the Bangladesh Cancer Society found that the revenue from the tobacco sector was around Tk23,000 crore while more than Tk30,000 crore was spent on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases.
The meeting was chaired by Sharmin Rinvi, president of the Economic Reporters Forum.
She said, "We need to control tobacco to protect future generations. To do this, along with government policies, family awareness has to be increased. As media workers, we also need to play an effective role."
Syed Mahbubul Alam, technical consultant of The Union and Gaous Pearee, senior reporter of Jamuna TV and director of WBB Trust also gave speeches during the discussion.
Syed Mahbubul Alam said that whenever there are discussions about tobacco control, misleading information – including about revenue generation, cigarette smuggling and employment opportunities – is brought up to counter the idea.
"However, more money is spent on the treatment of diseases caused by tobacco. Cigarettes cost less in Bangladesh than in the neighbouring countries, which shows that cigarette smuggling is misleading propaganda spread by the companies involved," he added.
"Through such campaigns, companies are blocking tax increases on tobacco. Although there is a large market for tobacco, a small number of people are involved in the marketing, production and cultivation process. So, with long term planning, it is possible to gradually reduce tobacco dependence," Alam said.
He also urged the media to be more vigilant in preventing the spread of misleading information by tobacco companies.
In his speech, Sushant Sinha said that tobacco companies are carrying out aggressive campaigns targeting the younger generation.
"Cigarette production is increasing at a rate of 2% per annum in the country. As Bangladesh is the eighth largest tobacco market in the world, a foreign tobacco company has recently invested more than Tk12,000 crore in the country. But, this is harming the general people of the country," he added.
"Tobacco growing areas are among the poorest in the country. Around 94% of the total cigarettes sold in Bangladesh are sold openly. To keep the youth away from tobacco, it is necessary to increase the tax, amend the law, and stop the sale of open cigarettes," Sinha further said.
Gaous Pearee said, "Our public health is more important than revenue collection."
"Increasing taxes on tobacco is one of the most effective ways to control it," he added.
The discussion was conducted by S M Rashidul Islam, general secretary of Economic Reporters Forum. Zafar Ahmed, senior reporter of Khola Kagoj, Raju Ahmed, senior reporter of GTV, and Alamgir Hossain, reporter of Daily Somoyer Alo participated in the open discussion among others.
WBB Trust officials were also present during the occasion.