Anti-tobacco groups PROGGA, ATMA demand specific taxes in budget

Two anti-tobacco groups have demanded increasing prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products by imposing specific taxes in the national budget.

Research and advocacy organisation Knowledge for Progress or PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance or ATMA raised the demand in a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

They placed a set of proposals and said implementing these in the upcoming budget for 2021-22 fiscal year amid the outbreak of COVID-19, a respiratory disease, will

prevent premature deaths of nearly 390,000 adults and 400,000 younger people.

Supplementary duty, health development surcharge and VAT on cigarettes will also earn the government Tk 34 billion in additional revenues, the organisations claim.

During the press conference, economist and the convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, “I fully support the budget proposals to increase tobacco taxes and prices. The government must look for the welfare for the people, as dictated in our constitution.”

“Unfortunately, the government only prioritises the revenue aspect, turning a blind eye to how it impacts the lives of the people.”

Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, said, “To hike tobacco taxes and prices, we can always follow the precedents set by neighbouring Sri Lanka. We can progress through learning from each other. We also need to educate the youth on the detrimental effects of tobacco.”

Naznin Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said, “Taxes at a specific rate should be imposed on tobacco. It will benefit the government.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for broader tobacco control. To utilise this, we need to make the harmful effects of tobacco widely known,” she added.

“Our tobacco taxation structure requires a fundamental reform. With that end in mind, specific supplementary duty needs to be introduced. The implementation of taxation and price related budget proposals, particularly in the low-tier cigarette brands, would significantly increase revenues and lower the health risk of poor demographic, considering the fact that 72 percent of cigarette smokers are users of low-tier brands,” said Mahfuz Kabir, research director at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

Md Mostafizur Rahman, lead policy advisor for the Bangladesh chapter of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, “We hope, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) will adopt the proposals. It will increase the government earnings, reduce existing tobacco use and also discourage the young from initiating.”

Nadira Kiron, co-convener of ATMA, hosted the event. The budget proposals were presented by Md Hasan Shahriar, project head of tobacco control at PROGGA. Among those present were Mortuza Haider Liton, convener of ATMA, ABM Zubair, executive director of PROGGA and representatives of anti-tobacco organisations and media outlets.

The budget proposals placed at the press conference are:

>> Introducing a tiered specific excise (supplementary duty -SD) with uniform tax burden (SD share of 65% of final retail price) across all cigarette brands.

>>Reducing price tiers from four to two in the medium-term (2021-22 to 2025-26) by reducing the gaps in final prices and tax rates between cigarettes brands.

>> Setting the retail price of 25 non-filtered bidi sticks at Tk 25, with a specific supplementary duty of Tk 11.25.

>> Fixing the retail prices of smokeless tobacco products: Tk 45 per 10 gram jarda and Tk 25 per 10 gram gul with a specific supplementary duty of Tk 27 on 10 gram jarda and Tk 15 specific supplementary duty on gul.

>> Retaining the existing 15 percent VAT and 1 percent Heath Development Surcharge on all tobacco products.