'If the country wants to achieve SDGs they need a healthier nation. For that tobacco consumption needs to be under control. There is no alternative to proper implementation of VAT and an end to tobacco production'
The government’s plan for controlling tobacco consumption is a plan without a road map, speakers at a program said on Saturday.
They alleged that the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is safeguarding tobacco companies’ interests rather than ensuring public health and safety, which would also hinder achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the future.
A press conference on reactions to the tobacco VAT in the proposed budget for FY19 was organized by Progga and Anti-Tobacco media Alliance (ATMA) at the city’s Press Club on Saturday.
Co-Convener of ATMa Nadira Kiron said the government has given multinational cigarette companies a chance to expand their businesses by keeping the highest price for 10 pieces of high grade cigarette at Tk101, same for the third consecutive year.
The real price of these cigarettes are decreasing day by day as per capita income increases at an accelerated rate, she added.
Pointing at the Consumer Price Index from 2001 to 2013, she said cigarettes are getting cheaper whereas the real prices of rice, eggs and milks are getting higher.
She also emphasized on decrease of cigarette tax level into two stages, gradual changing of multilevel ad valorem tax system with two layer price rate and ad valorem tax system with an additional fixed tax. Ban on e-cigarette consumption in the country, lowering the proposed tax for smokeless tobacco consumption from 65% to 45% and bringing back the Tk35 price floor for low grade cigarettes.
Rumana Haque, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, said the proposed VAT on tobacco was old wine in new bottle.
“If VAT implementation is not done wisely, it creates chances for tobacco users to switch themselves to another layer. So this will not make any impact on reducing the number of smokers,” she said.
“If we want to achieve SDG goal 3, we need to control tobacco to control NCDs and to keep our people healthy,” she added.
Re-impose 25% duty tax on tobacco export
Professor Brig (retd.) Abdul Malik, founder of Bangladesh National Heart Foundation (BNHFR), said tobacco is a curse for the country, dangerous than any narcotic substance, and it is causing chronic problems in the country.
“If the country wants to achieve SDGs they need a healthier nation. For that tobacco consumption needs to be under control. There is no alternative to proper implementation of VAT and an end to tobacco production,” he said.
Economist and chairman of PKSF Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said the government has eliminated duty tax on tobacco export, which will encourage tobacco production in the country.
“This will lead the government away from its goal to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh,” he added.
Establishing new VAT structure for zarda and gul industries
Speakers welcomed the government’s decision for bringing zarda and gul under the VAT net. They said with this decision, the government would get huge revenue from the industries. This would also help to lessen these forms of tobacco, favoured by women.
Nadira said many zarda and gul manufacturers remain unlicenced. The government has to undertake immediate measures for making new VAT structure to incorporate these industries in revenue procedures.
Economist Rumana Haque said the government has to find a way to take unlicenced factories in the rural areas under VAT net.
Ban or control over e-cigarette
The anti-tobacco consumption alliance, in the program, urged the government to ban or limit the use of e-cigarettes in the country.
Progga project coordinator Hasan Shahriar said they have noticed that the number of e-cigarette users is on the rise. As it is still in the early stages, he urged the government either to ban the consumption of e-cigarettes or limit their use.
Sohel Reza Chowdhury, head of Department of Epidemiology and Research at BNHFR, said during the consumption of cigarettes, a huge number of chemicals are burnt and inhaled with the smoke. Consumers take less chemicals through e-cigarette. But it contains a substance named Glycol (Propylene Glycol) that is said to be responsible for cancer.
“Detailed analysis of this substance has not been done yet. This is why it is banned in many countries,” he added, saying that it is better to keep it under control before it is too late.