To create a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040, farmers must be discouraged to cultivate tobacco, said speakers at a webinar on Saturday.
To discourage farmers from tobacco farming, special incentives for farming other crops, such as seeds and fertilisers, should be provided and assuring fair price is also essential, they added.
During the virtual budget dialogue on prices and taxes on tobacco products and their impact on public health, they also expressed frustration over the non-imposition of high taxes on tobacco in the latest budget.
The dialogue was jointly organised by the Bureau for Economic Research of the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh Network for Tobacco Tax Policy (BNTTP), and Tobacco Control and Research Cell.
In the keynote address, Dhaka University Professor of economics and BNTTP's Convener Dr Rumana Haque said experts have been proposing a specific supplementary duty on tobacco products alongside increasing their retail prices but that did not happen in the budget.
"About 72% of the smokers in the country smoke low-end cigarettes, the prices of which have been kept unchanged. For higher and premium quality cigarettes, the prices of every 10 sticks have been proposed to be increased by Tk5 and Tk7 respectively in the budget. But considering inflation, prices have not increased. In fact, prices have been decreased by 0.7% compared to last year," Rumana added.
She said this tax system will help tobacco companies create new smokers and encourage old smokers.
Former chairman of the National Board of Revenue Professor Dr Md Nasiruddin Ahmed, who moderated the session, said the government has ownership in British American Tobacco, a cigarette manufacturing company, which is unfair.
He added that the government should revoke this ownership and invest elsewhere.
Mozaffar Hossain Paltu, chairman of the National Anti-Tuberculosis Association of Bangladesh, said, "We have talked a lot about raising taxes on tobacco but to no avail. Now, we have to focus on how we can discourage farmers from cultivating tobacco."
"Tobacco companies pay farmers in advance and to battle this, the government must provide special incentives for farmers," he added.
Sirajganj-2 MP Professor Md Habibe Millat said some 180 lawmakers have submitted letters to change the tax imposed on tobacco but even then, nothing much is happening.
He called for being more united in the fight against tobacco.
Feni 1 MP Shirin Akhter, Gaibandha 1 MP Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary, and National Professional Officer of World Health Organisation Dr Syed Mahfuzul Haque also spoke at the event.