Anti-tobacco activists on Sunday called upon the government to raise tobacco prices and taxes, saying that the proposed budget is an impediment towards achieving the goal of making Bangladesh a tobacco-free country.
If the proposed budget is passed, it will make tobacco products even more affordable and increase their use among the youth and the poor, putting the public health at a greater risk, they said.
Members of Parliament (MPs), economists and public health experts said this in an online event on the proposed budget, jointly arranged by PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).
In a presentation made at the event, PROGGA said the proposed budget has kept the prices and taxes on the low and medium tier cigarettes unchanged, which constitute around 72 and 16 percent of Bangladeshi cigarette market respectively.
But the prices for 10 sticks of high and premium tier cigarettes have been raised by only Tk 5 and Tk 7 (5.5 percent hike), setting the prices at Tk 102 and 135 respectively. The increase (5 percent) is very negligible compared to the increase in per capita income of the country (9 percent), said the anti-tobacco body.
Besides, the prices of bidi and smokeless tobacco – Jorda and Gul -- have been kept unchanged, which would undoubtedly increase the use of these products and put the low-income people in a greater health risk.
Addressing the event, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said the low and medium tiers of cigarettes need to be merged and brought under specific taxation in the final budget of this year.
“Tobacco claims lives 10-15 times higher than the Covid pandemic has done in one year. So, why shouldn’t we be worried about tobacco?” he said.
Noted economist Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, said they earlier called for increased prices and introduction of specific taxes for all the tobacco products. “But the proposed budget doesn’t reflect any of these demands.”
He said the proposed budget can be changed if the Prime Minister wants.
Economist Dr Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the prices of low tier cigarettes need to be increased to discourage the youth from getting hooked on tobacco. “We want the youth of the future to be healthier. Only then we can utilise the benefits of demographic dividends to develop our country," she said.
Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), said the low and medium tiers make up for around 88 percent of the total cigarette market of the country. “So, the cigarette prices of these tiers should get a hike so that revenues could increase and health risks could be reduced," he said.
Dr Syed Mahfuzul Huq, National Professional Officer of WHO; Md Mostafizur Rahman, Lead Policy Adviser of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Bangladesh; and Dr Sohel Reza Choudhury, Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Research of the National Heart Foundation, among others, spoke at the event.
Nadira Kiron of ATMA conducted the event, while Md Hasan Shahriar of PROGGA placed the tobacco-related proposals to be incorporated in the final budget for 2021-22 fiscal year, said a press release.
The proposals include introduction of a tiered specific excise (supplementary duty -SD) with uniform tax burden (SD share of 65% of final retail price) across all cigarette brands; setting the retail price for 10 sticks cigarette in the low-tier at Tk 50, medium-tier at Tk 70, high-tier at Tk 110, premium-tier at Tk. 140; setting the retail price for 25 non-filtered bidi sticks at Tk 25, for 20 filtered sticks at Tk 20, for 10-gram Jorda and Gul at Tk 45 and 25 respectively.
According to PROGGA, if the prices of all tobacco products are increased through imposition of specific taxes, it will encourage 1.1 million people to quit smoking, prevent premature deaths of 390,000 smokers, and earn Tk 3400 crore additional revenue from cigarettes as supplementary duty, health development surcharge and VAT.