The government can reduce the consumption of tobacco products only by raising taxes, but the taxes proposed in the budget for FY22 are likely to increase its use, said speakers at a post-budget virtual press briefing on tobacco tax on Thursday.
At the event organised by Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE), its Project Coordinator Zayed Siddiqui presented the keynote paper where he said, "The taxes of low and medium quality cigarettes, 56% and 65% respectively, have remained unchanged in this budget compared to the previous budget."
He said 84% of the cigarette market is occupied by low and medium quality cigarettes, whose prices have remained the same. Further, the prices and the taxes of other tobacco products like Gul, Bidi, Jorda has also remained unchanged.
"As a result, people cannot be discouraged from smoking," he continued.
"On the other hand, the prices of high and premium quality cigarettes have been increased slightly, 5.2% and 5.5% respectively, compared to the previous year, but the taxes on them have remained the same as last year – 65%," stated Zayed.
"The proposed budget did not take into account the increase of the country's per capita income and the growth rate of GDP above 7% in determining the price of tobacco products," he said.
"Consequently, tobacco products will become more readily available, putting the health of the entire nation at risk, especially young people," he warned, adding that, "And the prime minister's dream of making the country tobacco free by 2040 will never succeed."
Zayed also said the anti-tobacco organisations' proposal to the government to impose a "specific tax" on tobacco would reduce the number of smokers in the country by 1.4 million. At present this number is 18 million.
The tax revenue from this sector currently stands at Tk305.2 crore, while its income is Tk271.8 crore in FY21, mentioned Zayed.
At the event, former chairman of National Board of Revenue (NBR) Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed blamed a nexus of corrupt officials for not increasing the tax on tobacco products.
He said, "The government has ownership (6.4%) in British American Tobacco Company. That is the reason for not hearing the repeated urge of the Anti-tobacco Alliance in the country"
Citing the constitution, he said, "The policymakers will give first priority on people's health and ban products which may hazard human health."
"But this is not being practised in the country," he continued.
Nasiruddin emphasised on a strong movement, raising voice and conducting a vast awareness campaign to change this situation.
"A big push has to be made so that our demand will be discussed in the policy level," he said.
At the event, a number of journalists and anti-tobacco activists also delivered their speeches and made demands to increase tax on tobacco products.