Experts have urged the government to introduce a specific price-based excise duty with a uniform tax on all brands of cigarettes and bidis to create a tobacco-free country.
The budget should pave the way for a tobacco-free Bangladesh, reduce tobacco-related losses and increase funding to address the Covid-19 crisis, said the speakers at a press conference organised by research and advocacy organisation PROGGA on Sunday.
They also proposed to impose a specific excise duty of 60% on smokeless tobacco products.
"Reforming the existing tax system as per the recommendations will reduce the use of tobacco products and save thousands of lives. At the same time, the country's revenue will increase," said Hassan Shahriar, program head at PROGGA, while presenting the keynote paper at the event.
"If the recommendations are implemented, cigarette smoking will be reduced from 15.1% to 14.1%. About 11 lakh people will be encouraged to quit smoking, and eight lakh young people will be discouraged to start smoking," said Shahriar adding that, "And the government's revenue will increase by around Tk3400 crore."
"Most importantly, it will pave the way for realising the prime minister's 2016 announcement of making the country tobacco-free by 2040, said Shariar.
Emphasising on curbing the easy access to tobacco products, Shahriar said about four crore tobacco users in the country are at higher risk of Covid-19 infection.
About the impact of this budget, he said, "Currently 86% smokers in the country consume low and medium quality cigarettes, but the price of these cigarettes has remained unchanged. This will increase the number of tobacco users and encourage young and poor people to smoke."
"Meanwhile, the price of high and premium quality cigarettes has increased only 5%, while the per capita income in the country has increased by about 9%. So, increasing this price will not bring any benefit," said Shahriar.
On the dangers of cigarette use, he said at least 1.26 lakh people die each year from tobacco related health complexity while around four lakh people become crippled.
Citing a 2018 study on revenue earning from tobacco sector, Shahriar said, "The country's revenue in 2018 was Tk22,610 crore while around Tk30,560 crore was spent on various tobacco-related health problems. So, tobacco is actually not a big revenue generating sector."
Chief guest at the programme Saber Hossain Chowdhury, president of the Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said tobacco has been incurring a big loss of life. So, the government must consider the issue of controlling tobacco, giving it high priority as it is related to human health.
"As per the constitution, the state must ensure health security for the people", said Saber.
The parliament member also said, "Budget is prepared for the people, it should reflect their interest."
"We have to raise our voice to control tobacco in the country and have to break the syndicate or the evil nexus working to save the tobacco sector," he added.