Anti-tobacco campaigners yesterday called for increasing taxes on cigarettes, bidi and other tobacco products that have become cheaper in absence of effective taxation.
The consumption of cigarettes and raw tobacco takes one lakh lives a year and fuels spending on treatment for smoking related diseases, they said.
Nearly 70 lakh adult will give up smoking if the government imposes 70 percent excise duty on retail prices of cigarettes and cancels the existing price slabs which are used to impose taxes on cigarettes, said Rumana Huque, an economics professor at Dhaka University.
She spoke at a discussion on tobacco taxation for fiscal 2016-17, at Cirdap auditorium in the capital.
The National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh, United Forum Against Tobacco and Progga, a policy advocacy organisation, jointly organised the event as part of a campaign against the use of tobacco.
Tobacco items have become cheaper compared to essential items like rice, milk and egg during 2001-2013, she said.
The prices of cigarettes and tobacco products are not going up in line with the rise in the purchasing capacity of people, she said.
Around 58 percent of the 4.6 crore adult who consume tobacco products in Bangladesh are men, according to the World Health Organisation.
Campaigners said Bangladesh is one of the countries where the prices of cigarettes are very low.
“In Bangladesh, some Tk 5,100 crore was spent on treatment for smoking related diseases in 2004. The financial losses were Tk 5,900 crore in the same year for loss of productivity due to smoking,” according to a study.
The campaigners also demanded increasing the health development surcharge on tobacco products to 2 percent from existing 1 percent.
"I personally support the proposal. I will discuss the matter with my senior colleagues," MA Mannan, state minister for finance, said at the programme.
He said the price slab system for cigarettes may come to an end in the upcoming fiscal year.
National Professor MA Malek said the costs associated with the treatment of tobacco related diseases are much higher than the amount of revenue the state gets from tobacco. Lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury said British American Tobacco Bangladesh, where the government has a stake, is a major player in the country’s cigarette industry.
Senior government officials sit in the board of BATB, which means the government is involved in the company's decision on cigarette production, he said.
“The government holds shares in a company that is responsible for the death of people,” he said.
The government has a 0.64 percent share in BATB, according to the website of the company.
“It is mockery. On one hand, we say tobacco is bad, but on the other hand, we use tobacco to earn revenue,” said another lawmaker, Abdul Matin Khasru. He demanded an end to tobacco production in the country.
Economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said increased tax on tobacco would not leave any major impact on the economy.