Call for subsidising healthy food by raising tax on harmful products

Speakers at a press conference called for subsidizing healthy food through increasing the price and tax on harmful products. They said that many people consume harmful products, but many others face food crisis. Against this backdrop, subsidies can be increased on essential foods, while price and tax on harmful products can be increased to control their consumption, they said.    

A total of 24 anti-tobacco organisations arranged the press conference virtually on Tuesday (June 8) to express their formal reactions over proposed tax on tobacco products in the proposed budget of 2021-2022 fiscal year. 

The anti-tobacco organisations categorically called for increasing the price and tax on tobacco products, which are harmful for public health. They also congratulated the 154 MPs who recommended amending the existing Tobacco Control Act and tax hike on tobacco products.

At the press conference, the anti-tobacco activists said that there is no change in the price of lower and middle tiers of cigarette in the proposed budget. The 10 sticks cigarette price remains Tk. 39 and Tk. 63 like previous year. But the price of regular essential products increases in the country.  

SM Abdullah, an associate professor of Department of Economics of Dhaka University, delivered the keynote address at the press conference, while  Prof Dr Golam Mohiuddin Faruque, oncologist and project director of Bangladesh Cancer Society moderated the event.

Prof Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed, former chairman of NBR, Prof Dr Rumana Huque of Department of Economics of Dhaka University and convener of BNTTP, Prof Sohel Reza Choudhury, head of the Department of Epidemiology & Research of National Heart Foundation Saifuddin Ahmed, coordinator of Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, Farida Akhter, coordinator of Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote (Tabinaj), Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, technical adviser of The Union, Iqbal Masood, director of Health Sector of Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Dr Nazim Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Shastho Shurokkha Foundation and Hasan Shahriar, head of program of PROGGA, expressed their opinions at the press conference.  

SM Abdullah in his keynote address said that about 72% smokers in Bangladesh smoke lower tier cigarettes. The price and tax of low and mid-range cigarettes remain unchanged in the proposed budget. On the other hand, the price of 10 stick cigarettes at high and premium tiers has been increased by Tk 5 (5.2%) and Tk 6 (5.5%) respectively and the supplementary duty has remained at 65%. As a result, the price of cigarettes per stick has increased by only Tk 0.5 at the high and only Tk 0.7 at the premium tier. Considering the increase in per capita income in one year, the real price of all tobacco products has come down as compared to the previous year, he added.

The speakers said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 and directed to formulate a comprehensive tobacco tax policy. But even after five years, there is no reflection of the implementation of the directive. The speakers proposed imposing specific tax on all tobacco products including lower and middle tier cigarettes. They also propose to increase tax keeping pace with inflation and income growth.