Civil society leaders and anti-tobacco practitioners Saturday said the government should divest its investment from tobacco companies to show its commitment towards a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040.
They stressed the need for adopting a comprehensive tobacco tax policy including the end of tax preferential treatments for tobacco companies.
They also said political parties and the government require political commitment to achieve the goal of becoming a tobacco free country.
The speakers said this at the dissemination meeting of findings of a study, "Tobacco Company Interference with Tobacco Taxation Process in Bangladesh", held at the Cirdap auditorium in the capital on Saturday.
The Voice, a rights-based research and advocacy organisation, organised the event.
The event was presided over by eminent economist and also Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation Chairman Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad while two former National Board of Revenue (NBR) chairmen – Muhammad Abdul Mazid and Nasiruddin Ahmed – spoke as expert panelists.
Ataur Rahman Masud, senior policy advisor of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids moderated the event while Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of Voice, presented the key note paper.
In his speech, Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said the government should divest from British American Tobacco Company and sell all shares to show its commitments to make the country free of tobacco.
He said a uniform specific tobacco tax rate would be far more effective for reducing tobacco consumption and its affordability in Bangladesh. "This system tends to lead to higher prices for all brand levels, reduces the incentive to switch to lower-priced brands, and is easier to administer when compared to ad valorem one," he said.
Nasiruddin Ahmed said the firm political commitment is prerequisite for a tobacco free Bangladesh. He said tobacco industry interference in the national policy making has been going on for many years in a very strategic manner.
They lobbied with the concerned ministries and gained permission to continue production, marketing, and distribution of tobacco during the lockdown by tobacco even during Covid lockdown with help an outdated law named "Essential Commodities Act 1956", which categorises cigarette as an essential commodity in Bangladesh.
Muhammad Abdul Mazid said no political party has kept "tobacco free Bangladesh" as an agenda in their official manifesto. He said tobacco industry involvement in any youth, public education, or other tobacco control initiatives should be banned. "CSR activities carried out by the tobacco industry also should be prohibited," he added.
Among others, Abdus Salam Mia, Grants Manager, CTFK, Development researcher Fazlul Haq Mazumder, and activist Sharmin Rini spoke on the occasion.