Experts for specific tax on tobacco products

Published : 17 Nov 2022 07:09 PM | Updated : 17 Nov 2022 07:09 PM

Public health experts and anti-tobacco activities have opined that specific taxation is a major tool in tobacco control. If a specific tax is imposed on all kinds of tobacco products, it will play a vital role to control tobacco in Bangladesh and increase the government revenue, they said. 

They, however, demanded stopping the retail sale of single stick of cigarette. They said that a strong national tax policy should be formulated as soon as possible in order to prevent the revenue evasion. 

The public health experts and the anti-tobacco activities expressed the opinion and made the demand at a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka on Wednesday (November 16). 

Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance (BATA), Bangladesh Network for Tobacco Tax Policy (BNTTP), Bangladesh Cancer Society, National Heart Foundation and Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust (WBB Trust) jointly organised the press conference on ‘Tobacco Companies’ Most Circulated Revenue Myths and Comparative Analysis’. 

Project Director of Bangladesh Cancer Society Prof Dr Gulam Mohiuddin Faruk presided over the press conference, while researcher of Epidemiology and Research Department at National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute Dr Mahbubus Sobhan Lincoln read out the written statement at the press conference. 

Fahimul Islam, consultant of The Union; Nasir Uddin Sheikh, country manager at Vital Strategies; Elias Khan, general secretary of the National Press Club; Gaous Pearee, director at the WBB Trust; and Syeda Anonna Rahman, head of program (TC and NCD) of the WBB Trust; were also present at the press conference and gave answers of questions from the media. 

Speakers at the press conference said that two foreign companies are controlling the majority of the tobacco business in Bangladesh. The companies have chosen the country to expand their business as Bangladesh is a most populous country and the number of the youths in the country is a remarkable level. The giant tobacco companies are only taking profit from the country. But they don’t take any responsibility for the cost of diseases, economic losses, environmental losses, and other losses due to tobacco cultivation and consumption in the country. “In such a situation, we need to take steps to encourage people to buy healthy products instead of harmful products like tobacco,” said the public health experts and the anti-tobacco activists. 

They also said that the goals of the government and the tobacco companies are completely contradictory to each other. The government is working to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040 and on the other hand, tobacco companies are constantly working to increase the number of smokers in the country. The government is working against tobacco aiming to protect public health and reduce health costs, while the goal of the tobacco companies is to make profit.

About the tobacco companies’ myths over revenue, the speakers said that a common myth in Bangladesh is that tobacco companies, especially British American Tobacco (BAT), pay the highest amount of tax to the government. However, the reality is completely different. Majority of the revenue earned from the tobacco sector (Tk 22,630 crore) comes from this company. But more than 94 per cent of this huge amount of revenue comes from common people through VAT. The BAT pays only Tk 816 crore. For a long time, the VAT paid by the common people has been treated as revenue by tobacco companies.

A study by Bangladesh Cancer Society in 2018 showed that the government spends more than Tk 7.5 thousand crore on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases against the revenue earned by the government from the tobacco sector.

The speakers further said that if the price of tobacco products and specific taxes are imposed from the next financial year, the government will be able to earn an additional revenue of more than nine thousand crore taka.