Specific tax on tobacco products is vital for public health: Webinar

Non-government Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE) on 9 May proposed that the government reform the ad valorem-based taxation on tobacco products by introducing a uniform tax burden on all cigarettes.

According to the proposal, the excise share would be 65 per cent of retail price of all cigarettes, instead of 57 per cent and 65 per cent excise on lower-tier and premium brands respectively.

Additionally, 15 per cent value added tax and one per cent health development surcharge would be applied to the retail price, the proposal said.

Prior to the upcoming 2021-22 budget session, VOICE placed the proposal at a webinar. Planning minister MA Mannan attended the event as the chief guest and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation chairman Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad presided over the discussion.

While presenting the proposal as part of his keynote, VOICE project director Zayed Siddiki said in case of non-filter bidi, a specific 45 per cent, instead of the existing 30 per cent, complementary duty can be imposed on retail price.

Smokeless tobacco like jarda and gul is too harmful to health. Hence, he proposed specific 66 per cent complementary duty, instead of the existing 55 per cent ad valorem excise, on retail price. He added that the proposed reformation would add Tk34 billion revenue earning of Bangladesh.

Tax raise on tobacco would encourage 1.1 million adults to give up smoking. Above all, it would enable Bangladesh to stop untimely death of 390 thousand current smokers, he said.

Another non-government organisation Progga’s executive director ABM Zubair, while citing that percentage of low-tier cigarette smokers increased from 27 to 70 during 2002-2018, said the four-tier taxation did not help discourage smoking as smokers choose cheap brand substitutes for smoking.

Reporters San Frontiers correspondent Saleem Samad enquired about existence of a roadmap for the prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s promise to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040 while Mustafizur Rahman, the lead policy advisor of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids questioned about the government share in the British American Tobacco (BAT) company.

Parliament member Shameem Haider Patwary said a census on tobacco workers and their rehabilitation from tobacco industry is a must. “We need to make the tobacco business less profitable by turning it into one highly burdened with taxation,” he said.

Planning minister MA Mannan said revenue from the tobacco industry is less than the health cost of tobacco-related diseases. He assured the participants to convey the proposals to the authorities concerned.

Parliament members Ashim Kumar Ukil, Shirin Akhter and anti-tobacco media alliance organiser Nadira Kiron also addressed the webinar moderated by VOICE executive director Ahmed Swapan Mahmud.

Source: Prothom Alo