The anti-tobacco campaigners and experts urged the government to increase tax on tobacco products including cigarette and bidi in the upcoming national budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 in a bid to discourage the use of the harmful tobacco products to protect the health of countrymen.
In a budget proposal on tobacco tax for FY 2020-21, anti-tobacco campaigning organisation and alliance PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) respectively placed the proposal in a social media webinar titled “The Type of Tobacco Tax We Want, Budget 2020-21” on Tuesday.
Economists and lawmakers also joined the programme.
In the proposal, the anti-tobacco organisations demanded imposing a three percent surcharge on retail prices of all tobacco products and increase the price of smokeless tobacco products.
“World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently said lungs hooked on tobacco are at greater risk of Covid-19. In Bangladesh, about 40 million adults who use tobacco products are currently at grave risk of severe coronavirus infection. So the government should take step to discourage people from using tobacco and tobacco products,” said the budget proposal.
It also claimed that if the aforementioned proposals are implemented, it would raise additional revenues up to Tk10,000 crore for the government and an additional Tk1,000 crore would come from the three percent surcharge.
“The additional revenues generated may help the government to recover losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, bear coronavirus related medical expenses and implement the stimulus packages. At the same time, it would encourage nearly two million current adult smokers to quit and prevent six lakh premature deaths in the long run,” the proposal added.
Speaking at the webinar, Convener of National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, “Corona has opened up an opportunity for us. We must control the use of tobacco products and emphasise public health management.”
Reiterating the Prime Minister’s pledge to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh, lawmaker 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 BDT 11 thousand crores, and also if consequently, all these deaths and illness persist, then 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.
Criticising the letters issued by the Members of the Parliament in favour of not increasing tobacco tax, lawmaker Dr Habibe Millat said, “During this year’s budget session, we will motivate at least 150 parliamentarians to speak in favour of implementing this proposal.”
Dr Rumana Huque, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, 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.
Lawmaker Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary and Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) also spoke at the webinar.