Making Tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040

Easy availability of tobacco products main barrier

Mohammad Al Amin

29 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Availability of tobacco and tobacco products will be the main barrier to making Bangladesh a tobacco-free nation by 2040 as declared by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, experts said.

Raising the prices is vital for curbing the use of tobacco and tobacco products in the country, they added.

They also suggested abolishing the stratified tax structure and increasing the prices of cigarettes in all tires in the upcoming national budget for FY 2021-22.

Different quarters of the country’s people including lawmakers, economic and health experts and anti-tobacco campaigners have already demanded the government to increase the prices of tobacco and tobacco products through increasing taxes in a bid to make these products less available and affordable.

Asked whether the prices of tobacco and tobacco products will increase through imposing more tax in the upcoming national budget, Md Masud Sadiq, member (VAT policy) and Md Alamgir Hossain (member Tax policy) declined to make any comment.

“Reduction of tobacco consumption depends on its price. But what we have seen is that the way tobacco prices are increased in Bangladesh, especially the way in which taxes are levied, it seems like a lot of taxes imposed, but the base price of tobacco is too low which makes tobacco products very affordable. The base price and taxation should be raised in line with per capita income and inflation,” Prof Sohel Reza Choudhury, head of Department of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation Hospital & Research Institute (NHFHRI), told the Daily Sun.

According to reports, Bangladesh is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the availability of tobacco products. Cigarettes are the cheapest in Bangladesh after Myanmar in South Asia.

Public health experts said that the use of tobacco in the country is not decreasing due to its easy availability.

In FY 2018-19, the price of a pack of low tier 10 stick cigarettes was Tk 35. The price now stands at Tk 39, according to a report of NHFHRI. This data suggest that the price of a stick has increased by only Tk 0.40 in three years. At the same time, the price of unfiltered bidis has increased by only Tk 0.28 per stick and the price of filtered bidis has hiked by only Tk 0.15 per stick, the report added.

Presenting a tax proposal for tobacco products at a webinar in the beginning of May, Sohel Reza Choudhury called for a specific duty of 65 per cent on the retail price of cigarettes, 45 per cent on bidis and 60 per cent on the retail price of smokeless tobacco products. If this proposal is implemented, the supplementary duty and VAT will generate additional revenue of Tk 300 billion.

The proposal said raising tobacco prices and reducing its availability would encourage about 1.1 million adult smokers to quit smoking and discourage more than 800,000 young people from starting smoking. It will also help prevent the untimely death of 3.90 lakh current smokers and 4 lakh young people.

Former health minister Prof. Dr. AFM Ruhal Haque, MP in a webinar recently said, “Those involved in tobacco production and trade are very powerful. We have to take different approaches to work against them. Increasing the tax on tobacco in the budget will reduce its use.”

Speaking at the programme, the NBR Chairman Abu Hena Md. Rahmatul Munim said, “We are trying to control tobacco by imposing tax every year. But there is no survey about its result. The organizations that work against tobacco can look into it. It will help us work on increasing the tobacco tax.”

Health Minister Zahid Maleque recently wrote to the finance minister, proposing to impose uniform tax rates in all cigarette tiers (65 per cent supplementary duty on final retail price) and introduce specific excise tax, impose uniform tax rates in filtered and non-filtered bidis (45 per cent supplementary duty on final retail price) and introduce specific excise tax, increase price and tax on Jarda and Gul and introduce specific excise tax on tobacco products, the NHFHRI said.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2018, there are about 37 million tobacco users in Bangladesh. This widespread use of tobacco is putting pressure on public health and the economy.

A study by the Bangladesh Cancer Society and the Economics Department of Dhaka University said 126,000 people die of tobacco-related diseases in the country every year. Besides, the cost of treatment of tobacco-related diseases is more than Tk 30,000 crore. On the other hand, the revenue from the tobacco sector is Tk 22,000 crore.