They also urged the government to keep the 15% VAT on cigarettes unchanged in the budget for FY2019-20
An anti-tobacco platform on Saturday demanded banning the electronic cigarettes and increasing the health development surcharge on tobacco from 1% to 2% in the upcoming budget in a bid to discourage tobacco consumption in the country.
The platform that comprises of at least seven organizations including National Heart Foundation, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Young Power in Social Action and Progga raised their demands at a pre-budget discussion at the Sagar Runi Auditorium of Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU).
They also urged the government to keep the 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) on cigarettes unchanged in the budget for 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The organizers said the government should prohibit electronic cigarettes as it is spreading vastly among young generation including college and university goers.
“E-cigarettes are expanding fast in almost 26 countries including Bangladesh. Before it grows to an intolerable level, policy actions are needed to ban the e-cigarettes,” Md Hsan Shahriar, project coordinator, PROGGA, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Economist Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) and Chairman, National Anti-Tobacco Platform was the chief guest at the event. The special guest was Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).
The proposals for the upcoming budget were presented by Dr. Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). Dr. Nasiruddin Ahmed, Former Chairman of National Board of Revenues (NBR) was the main discussant at the program. The program was chaired by Former Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique.
Mahfuz Kabir mentioned some proposals for the upcoming budget that include abolishing the four-segment price slabs for cigarettes with the introduction of two segments--high and low-, abolishing the filter and non-filter variation for Bidi, eliminating tariff value system for smoke free tobacco products(gul, jarda etc) and imposing a 15% VAT on all tobacco products at retail level.
He also proposed 11 –point recommendations including bringing all manufacturers of smoke free tobacco products under the tax net and facilitating tobacco regulations for implementation.
He recommend formulation of a simple, effective, and long-term (5 years) tobacco tax policy that will ensure increased revenue and decrease tobacco use over the period. Imposing a ban on the production, importation, and marketing of E-cigarettes and other Heated Tobacco Products (IQOS) is another proposal.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, ‘We have been pushing for an overhaul of tobacco taxation system for a long time. The National Board of Revenue and other policymakers often express their consent and solidarity with us. However, the reality often does not reflect their willingness.”
He also said, the price of cigarettes should be increased so that smokers feel financial pressure.
“We should increase awareness among people properly and alert youths.” he also said.
Nazneen Ahmed said, ‘An effective increase in the price of tobacco products will discourage anyone to start using tobacco.’ She also emphasized on working to bring a psychological change among the users of tobacco to end their addiction. She also proposed that excluding tobacco users from the government’s social safety net programme may also protect the poor from tobacco.
Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed, Former Chairman of National Board of Revenue (NBR) said that poor people do not care about health as long as they can afford low priced cigarettes.
Speakers at the press conference said that tobacco products are becoming cheaper and cheaper in Bangladesh over the time. Besides, the existing tobacco taxation structure is extremely complex. Due to multiple price slabs and opportunity to purchase tobacco products at different prices, tax and price measures are not working effectively in reducing the use of tobacco.
The press conference was organized with support from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) on the initiative of PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) and in association with other anti-tobacco organizations including National Heart Foundation Bangladesh, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Association for Community Development (ACD), Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh Institute of Theatre Arts (BITA), SUPRO and Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote (TABINAJ).