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Dhaka Tribune

Tobacco consumption in Bangladesh sees record rise

Update : 21 May 2013, 08:00 AM

More than half of all men and nearly one in three women use tobacco in Bangladesh, according to a latest study on tobacco consumption.

Conducted by Human Development Research Centre (HDRC) and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the study looked at tobacco consumption trends among people aged 15 and older, estimating that 46.3m people out of 107m consume tobacco.

About 58% of men and 28.7% of women smoke or chew tobacco in one of the cheapest tobacco countries across the globe making up 43% of its total adult population, it showed.

Bangladesh ranked among top tobacco consuming countries where 57,000 people over the age of 30 die each year from tobacco-related illness. 

Though Bangladesh signed WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 to control tobacco use by all means, it is yet to form a national agency that experts think a key to fight tobacco. 

The survey revealed that tobacco consumption in Bangladesh sharply rose in recent years, with cigarette sales going up by 40% and tobacco use in the form of bidi increased by 80% between 1997 and 2010.

Compared to 50.9 billion cigarettes bought in 1997, the consumption was 71.8 billion pieces in 2010, while bidi sales climbed from 43bn in 1997 to over 81bn in 2010.

“Bidi users are thought to belong to low-income group with relatively low purchasing power. With bidi sales soaring, I don’t see it getting along well with the claim of Bangladesh’s journey to economic prosperity,” DU professor Abul Barkat said while presenting the study findings titled “The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Taxation in Bangladesh”.

The study recommended adoption of a uniform excise tax onall brands and elimination of existing four-layer price slabs to discourage consumption.

“10% increase in cigarette prices will lead to over 5% reduction in cigarette consumption while 10% increase in bidi prices will cut its consumption by 7%,” the study estimated.

Excise taxes on cigarettes account for half of the retail cigarette price in the country while total taxes are two-thirds of the retail price.

Anti-tobacco campaigners allege that the policy is at odds with countries having comprehensive tobacco reduction approach where excise taxes typically account for 70% of retail price with total taxes claim 75% of it.  

Different tax rates on different price slabs only benefit tobacco manufacturers, they argued.

“Levying 70% excise tax in compliance with World Health Organisation (Who)recommendations would mean consumption reduction by 66% that would prevent 6 million premature deaths, prevent 7 million youth from initiating smoking and help 7 million smokers quit,” the survey predicted.

It also revealed that the net loss to the economy due to tobacco is much higher than revenues earned from tobacco in the country.

If 25% of the people experiencing tobacco-induced disease seek inpatient care, it would cost the nation Tk147.7bn. The amount would leap to 307bn if the cost of treatment for all tobacco patients is taken into account while the tobacco sector, direct and indirect benefits inclusive, results in financial gain of Tk33.3bn, the study pointed out.

Addressing the function, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) president Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said imposing strong taxes would deter people from smoking as increasing taxes at a certain level resulted in consumption reduction.

Drawing experience from his own family, he said: “I watched my younger brother die of cancer, for which tobacco is to blame. We must stop its consumption as all it does is to put human health in danger and levying tax is the way forward to do it.”

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