Monday, February 18, 2019

Anti-tobacco groups allege budget safeguarding ‘death trade, not public health’

  • News Desk,
    Published: 2018-06-24 02:12:35 BdST


Anti-tobacco groups have alleged the government is safeguarding ‘death trade, not public health’ through the proposed taxes on tobacco products.

PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance or ATMA organised a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka on Saturday on the proposed budget for 2018-19 fiscal year.

Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation Chairman Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, who is also the chairman of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, demanded the policymakers set the price of low-slab cigarettes at minimum Tk 35 per 10 sticks in the final budget, the organisers said in a press release.

He also urged the government to reinstate the 25 percent export duty on processed tobacco.

National Professor Brig (Rtd) Abdul Malik, founding president of the National Heart Foundation, backed Kholiquzzaman’s demand, saying it was ‘unethical’ to encourage the people of other countries to consume Bangladesh’s cheap tobacco products.

“Our vision is to build not only a tobacco-free Bangladesh, but also a tobacco-free world,” he said.

Professor Rumana Haque of Dhaka University’s economics department said the proposed budget left the existing four price slabs of cigarettes untouched.

“As a result, the consumers will get opportunity to switch to lower brands and vice versa which will appear as an obstacle in achieving a tobacco-free country by 2040,” she said.

Speakers at the press conference said the proposed budget does not reflect the anti-tobacco organisations’ demand for bringing down the number of price slabs into two from the existing multi-tier taxation system and for imposing a part of supplementary duty as specific excise on tobacco products.

Instead, the proposed budget has created four price slabs in cigarettes - low, medium, high and premium - and once again, left the price and tax of premium cigarettes untouched (Tk 101 per 10 sticks) for the third consecutive year, allowing the multinational tobacco companies to expand their ‘death trades’.

The retail prices of 10 grams of chewing tobacco or Jarda and powdered tobacco or Gul have been set at Tk 25 and the proposed supplementary duty on these products is 65 percent.

The budget has eliminated the factory price system in smokeless tobacco products and introduced taxes on retail prices which will simplify the taxation on these products.

The poverty-stricken people, in particular the women constitute the majority of the consumers of smokeless tobacco products.

So, this is a praiseworthy initiative on Finance Minister AMA Muhith’s part when it comes to protecting this population from the detrimental effect of these products, the press release said.

The press conference presented the following measures to be included in the finalised budget:

>> Merge the low and medium tier under a single tier (low) and high and premium tiers under another single tier (high). Set the minimum price for the low tier at no less than 50 taka per 10 sticks and raise the supplementary tax to 60 percent. Similarly, set the minimum price for the high tier (high and premium) at minimum Tk 100 per 10 sticks and impose 65 percent supplementary tax. At the same time, introduce a specific tax of Tk 5 per 10 sticks for all cigarettes.

>> Eliminate the distinction between filtered and non-filtered bidis. Set the minimum price at Tk 30 per pack of 25 sticks. Impose 45 percent supplementary duty and add a specific tax of Tk 6 per pack of 25 sticks.

>> Impose a supplementary duty of 45 percent and then add a specific tax of Tk 10 on per 10 gram of smokeless tobacco products instead of the proposed 65 percent supplementary duty.

>> Reinstate the 25 percent export duty on processed and unprocessed tobacco and impose a 10 percent supplementary duty at the local level to discourage tobacco cultivation.

Nadira Kiron, chief reporter of ATN Bangla and co-convener of ATMA, presented a written statement at the press conference. Chief Crimes Correspondent and ATMA Convenor Mortuza Haider Liton, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Grants manager Mahfuzur Rahman Bhuiyan, and Prof Sohel Reza Choudhury, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Research, National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute were among others present at the event.

The press conference was organised in association with National Heart Foundation Bangladesh, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Association for Community Development (ACD), Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), National Anti-Tobacco Platform (NATP) and Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote (TABINAJ).