The government must impose specific tax on all tobacco products to make them difficult to afford for the sake of public health, experts said on Sunday.
Addressing a webinar organised by the rights organisation VOICE, speakers added that the move will help 8 lakh young people to never start smoking, encourage 11 lakh adults to give up this harmful habit, and help boost the government's revenue.
Moreover, imposing specific tax on all tobacco products will help Bangladesh stop the untimely death of 3.90 lakh current smokers and save the lives of 4 lakh youths. These people will then be able to perform as human resource for the country.
Planning Minister MA Mannan participated at the event, titled "The Necessity of Increasing Tobacco Tax to Save Public Health," as the chief guest, while economist and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) Chairman Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad chaired the programme.
Project Coordinator of VOICE Zayed Siddiki presented the keynote focusing on Bangladesh's current complicated tobacco tax structure, where different amounts of tax are imposed on different tiers.
Zayed Siddiki said, "The fact that the prices of tobacco products did not increase with the rise of people's per capita income can be attributed to the fact that no sincere attempt has been made to increase tobacco taxes.
"Especially, the prices of lower tier cigarettes have remained cheap and affordable, which is why tobacco consumption among the poor people did not decrease."
Controlling the prices of tobacco by imposing tax has proved to be an effective way to reduce tobacco consumption. This is why a number of suggestions to reform the tax structure were raised in the webinar.
Some of the recommendations are – reforming the system where 57% tax is imposed on lower tier cigarettes and 65% tax on the rest by introducing equal amount of tax on all tiers, and introducing a tiered specific excise with uniform tax burden where excise share will be 65% of final retail price across all cigarette brands.
The keynote also suggested that in addition to that, a 15% VAT and 1% health development surcharge should be applied to the final retail price and in case of non-filter bidi specific tax, it should be 45% of the retail price.
In case of smokeless tobacco (Jarda, Gul) specific tax, it should be 66% of the final retail price, it added.
Addressing the programme, Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary said, "There is no other country in the world that has a multi-tiered tax structure imposed on tobacco similar to that in Bangladesh.
"In fact, this is a fundamental reason we cannot benefit from tax increase in our country. Tobacco tax increase has never reduced revenue in any country. This is why we must impose specific tax on tobacco products."
Lawmaker Shirin Akhter said, "We must take action against the things that are harmful. Tobacco is harmful for everyone. We have to raise our voice to make parliament tobacco free."
Planning Minister MA Mannan applauded the organisers for holding the webinar. He made his position clear against tobacco and expressed optimism regarding the imposition of specific tax on tobacco products for the sake of public health.
Requesting everyone to focus on this issue, Mannan said, "There is no debate on how injurious tobacco is to our health. Since our honourable prime minister is already committed to the cause, this is the best time when we can reform the tobacco tax structure."
Economist Dr Kholiquzzaman suggested imposing 1% additional surcharge to create awareness against tobacco.
"Our prime minister has declared to make our country tobacco free by 2040. But she cannot do everything alone. This is why an effort should be made to orient more people about the issue, so that they can work on this" he said.
Parliament members Aroma Dutta, lawmakers Ashim Kumar Ukil, Shamim Haider Patwary and Mustafizur Rahman, Lead Policy Advisor of Campaign for Tobacco free Kids spoke at the event as special guests.
VOICE's Executive Director Ahmed Swapan Mahmud moderated the event.