One lakh sixty-one thousand people die in the country every year due to tobacco use and hundreds of thousands of people become paralyzed.
The information was provided by Hasan Shahriar, Head of the Tobacco Control Project of PROGGA at a webinar titled 'Tobacco Tax and Price Measures: Industry Ill Tactics and the Needful', organized on Saturday with support from Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids (CTFK).
Meanwhile, the leaders of anti-tobacco organizations demanded to increase tobacco prices and taxes on tobacco products in the budget to protect public health.
The speakers at the webinar said that according to the World Health Organization's 2021 data, Bangladesh ranks 107th out of 165 countries in terms of the availability of the cheapest cigarettes.
“The price of the cheapest cigarettes in neighboring India is more than double that of the cheapest cigarette in Bangladesh. Cigarettes are getting cheaper in the country due to lack of effective taxation,” they said.
It was further stated at the webinar citing the World Bank's report of 2019 that the illegal trade of cigarettes in Bangladesh is the lowest among the 27 countries; only 1.8 percent. Therefore, the propaganda about cigarette revenue evasion and illegal trade is just an attempt to confuse the policymakers.
They said that consumers pay almost all (96 percent) of the revenue from cigarettes as indirect taxes, so it is not true that cigarette companies pay the most taxes. On the other hand, factory owners also magnify the size of their workforce to a great extent to extract benefits by using the specter of mass lay-offs before budget.
“According to the National Board of Revenue (NBR), the number of regular, irregular and contract workers in the tobacco industry in Bangladesh stands at 46,916 which is only 0.074 percent of the total labor force of Bangladesh (63.5 million). Owners try to get benefits from policy makers by spreading false information about the number of tobacco workers,” they added.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Bangladesh's Lead Policy Advisor Md Mostafizur Rahman, Bangladesh Country Advisor of Vital Strategies Dr Shafiqul Islam and Dr Sohail Reza Chowdhury Professor at the Department of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh were also present during this time.
It was also informed in the webinar, organized by PROGGA, that to influence tax authority, tobacco companies use MPs to issue DO (Demi Official Letter) letter on their behalf, use foreign diplomats to send letters to Finance Ministry, assign some paid and beneficiary economists to write columns in dailies against tax increase, conduct meticulously planned media campaign, stage nationwide protests by forcing tobacco workers onto streets and use business associations to sit in meetings with the revenue board.
Leaders of anti-tobacco organizations who took part in the webinar said that the tobacco companies use various arguments against the tax and price hike to confuse the policy makers.