Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, on Sunday asked the relevant authorities to merge the low and medium tiers of cigarettes and bring them under specific taxation in the final budget of this year.
“We are working to save lives and we are not ready to get defeated by tobacco companies. Tobacco claims 10 to 15 times more lives than COVID pandemic has done in one year. So why shouldn’t we be worried about tobacco? The Honorable Prime Minister is on behalf of a welfare state. I know she would support our propositions, otherwise I would not discuss this," he said at a discussion on the proposed budget.
Members of Parliament (MPs), economists and public health experts said on Sunday during an online budget reaction event, organised jointly by PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).
Eminent economist and the convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad called for “increased prices for all tobacco products”.
“We called for the introduction of specific taxes. The proposed budget does not reflect any of these demands. However, he mentioned that the proposed budget can be changed if the Honorable Prime Minister is willing.”
Senior Research Fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and economist Dr. Nazneen Ahmed said, "The prices of low tier cigarettes need to be increased in one quick blow. This can discourage the youth from getting hooked on tobacco. We want the future youth to be healthy. Only then can we utilize the benefits of demographic dividends to develop our country."
The Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), Dr. Mahfuz Kabir said, "The low and medium tier make up for around 88 percent of total cigarette market of the country. As a result, these tiers required a hike so that revenues could increase and health risks could be reduced."
Dr. Syed Mahfuzul Huq, National Professional Officer of WHO; Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Lead Policy Advisor of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Bangladesh; and Dr. Sohel Reza Choudhury, Professor at the Dept. of Epidemiology and Research of the National Heart Foundation also spoke among others in the program.
The event was hosted by Nadira Kiron, Co-convener, ATMA.
The budget proposals were presented by Md. Hasan Shahriar, Project Head, Tobacco Control, PROGGA. Among those present were also Mortuza Haider Liton, Convener, ATMA, ABM Zubair, Executive Director, PROGGA and representatives of anti-tobacco organizations and media outlets.
The proposed budget for FY 2021-22, if passed, will make tobacco products even more affordable and increase the use among the youth and the poor, they said.
“This would put public health under considerable threat, benefit only tobacco companies and make the government lose opportunities of earning additional revenues.”
In its analysis of tobacco tax related measures in the proposed budget, PROGGA drew the attention to the fact that the proposed budget has kept the prices and taxes on the low and medium tier cigarettes unchanged which respectively constitute around 72 and 16 percent of Bangladeshi cigarette market.
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). Hence, the proposed budget would make all types of cigarettes even much cheaper. According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 2017, between 2009 and 2017, there has been a 1.5 million increase in the number of cigarette users. The budgetary measures, as proposed, would increase the number of smokers again, putting public health in a precarious position.
The prices of bidi and widely used smokeless tobacco (jarda and gul) have also been kept unchanged which would undoubtedly increase use of these products and put the low-income people into greater health risk, according to the analysis.