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Experts for imposing specific taxes on tobacco products

  • Published at 05:18 pm April 27th, 2021
Progga ATMA tobacco tax webinar
Experts address a webinar on tobacco tax and related issues ahead of the national budget for 2021-22, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 Courtesy

Implementation of proposals would prevent premature deaths of nearly 390,000 current adults and 400,000 current youth

Research and Advocacy Organization Progga (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) have demanded the government to impose specific taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products in the upcoming budget for 2021-22.

In a press conference held virtually on Tuesday, the two organizations unveiled their proposals regarding tobacco taxes and prices in the 2021-22 FY national budget.

Implementation of proposals would prevent premature deaths of nearly 390,000 current adults and 400,000 current youth, according to release.

In addition, supplementary duty, health development surcharge and VAT on cigarettes would also earn the government Tk34 billion in additional revenues, the organizations claim.

The Project Head of Tobacco Control at Progga Md Hasan Shahriar presented the budget proposals 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.

In the low-tier, the retail price should be set Tk50 for 10 sticks, followed by Tk32.50 as specific supplementary duty (SD); In the medium-tier set the retail price at Tk70 for 10 sticks and Tk45.50 should be imposed as SD;  In the high-tier, the retail price should be set at Tk110 for 10 sticks, followed by Tk71.50 as SD; and in the premium tier, set the retail price at Tk140 for 10 sticks and BDT 91 should be imposed as SD.

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

For 25 non-filtered bidi sticks, the retail price should be Tk25, followed by a specific supplementary duty of Tk11.25. The price for 20 filtered sticks should be Tk20, which will be followed by a specific supplementary duty of Tk9. As a result of such measures, in both filtered and non-filtered bidis, the specific supplementary duty will be 45% of final retail prices.

For SLT products, the price per 10-gram jarda and gul should be Tk45 and Tk25 respectively. A specific supplementary duty of Tk27 should be imposed on per 10-gram jarda. For gul, the specific supplementary duty should be Tk15. As a result of such measures, in both jarda and gul, the specific supplementary duty will be 60% of final retail prices.

They also propose to retain the existing 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) and 1% Heath Development Surcharge on all tobacco products.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 2017, between 2009 and 2017, there has been a 1.5 million increase in the number of cigarette users. The numbers reveal that the existing tobacco tax structure has not been contributing to make Bangladesh a tobacco-free country by 2040, as envisioned by the Honorable Prime Minister.

With the ongoing second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, the health sector and overall economy of the country are going through precarious condition. If tobacco use goes unchecked during such a period of vulnerabilities, it would put the additional risk for public health, Shahriar added.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), smokers are more likely to become severely ill when infected with covid-19. This makes the existing tobacco users, around 40 million in number, extremely vulnerable to severe covid-19 infection.

In Bangladesh, tobacco use claims 126,000 lives prematurely each year. In a 2019 study titled “Economic Cost of Tobacco Use in Bangladesh: A Health Cost Approach”, it was revealed that in 2017-18, the economic cost (medical expenses and loss of productivity) of tobacco use stood at Tk30,560 crore while revenues from the tobacco sector in 2017-18 FY was only Tk22,810 crore.

He also said raising the prices of tobacco products would discourage the youth from starting use and getting addicted while encouraging the existing users belonging to the poor demographic to quit.

Supporting fully the budget proposals to increase tobacco taxes and prices, the convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said the government must look for the welfare of the people, as dictated in our Constitution.

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

Former Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique 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.”

Senior Research Fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Naznin Ahmed 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 utilize this, we need to make the harmful effects of tobacco widely known.” She also said.

The Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) Mahfuz Kabir said the tobacco taxation structure requires 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.” Md Mostafizur Rahman, Lead Policy Advisor for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Bangladesh 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,” Mostafizur added.

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