Experts on Tuesday urged the government to increase prices of tobacco products in the upcoming budget to deter users from using them and generate additional revenue.
They said as about 40 million adults who use tobacco products are currently at grave risk of coronavirus infection in Bangladesh.
Economists and members of Parliament said the additional revenues can be used to bear coronavirus related medical expenses and implementation of stimulus package.
The recommendations came from a webinar – The Type of Tobacco Tax We Want, Budget 2020-21 – organised jointly by PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).
World Health Organization (WHO) has recently informed that lungs hooked on tobacco are at greater risk of COVID-19.
In support of this budget recommendation, eminent economist and Convener of National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said coronavirus has presented an opportunity.
“We have to utilise this opportunity ... [and] must control the use of tobacco products,” he said.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), highlighted that in order to curb smoking, there is no alternative to reducing the number of cigarette price tiers.
“In the upcoming budget, the existing four tiers of cigarette prices have to be eliminated and two tiers have to be introduced as multiple price tiers provide consumers the opportunity to switch. For this reason, price and tax measures for reducing tobacco use fail to work effectively as intended,” she said.
Nazneen also emphasised awareness-building activities for tobacco control.
Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), emphasised the importance of reform in tobacco tax structure and presented the benefits of such measures, saying a portion of supplementary duty as specific tax could be imposed.
In addition to other tax and price measures, a 3 percent surcharge on retail prices of tobacco products should be imposed. If these proposals are implemented, it would raise additional revenues up to Tk 10,000 crores for the government.
Also, an additional Tk 1,000 crores would come from the 3 percent surcharge if imposed.
“The government can utilise this revenue to reduce the harms of tobacco use, health service expenses due to coronavirus pandemic and implementation of stimulus packages,” he added.
Discuss tobacco throughout the year
Dr Rumana Huque, Professor, Department of Economics at University of Dhaka, said that while more than half of the tobacco users of the country are users of smokeless tobacco products, the prices of these products are still very cheap.
She 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.
She mentioned that unlicensed producers need to be brought under tax net as well.
Reiterating Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s pledge to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh, Member of Parliament 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 Tk 11,000 crores, and also if consequently, all these deaths and illness persists, then I am afraid I cannot support this budget on moral and ethical grounds.”
Criticising the letters issued by Members of the Parliament in favour of not increasing tobacco tax, Professor Dr Habibe Millat, MP, said, “We must strengthen our forces further against tobacco.
Supporting the proposed tax and price initiative he said that, “during this year’s budget session, we will motivate at least 150 parliamentarians to speak in favour of implementing this proposal.”
Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary, MP, thinks that MP should play a key role throughout the year on implementing tobacco price and tax measures.
“Members of the Parliament can question and discuss tobacco issues during the parliamentary sessions throughout the year. We need to turn tobacco products into an expensive commodity. This will increase prices, generate additional revenue as well as discourage people in using tobacco products,” he added.