Experts frustrated at NBR’s role as calls for specific taxes on tobacco go unheeded

Increasing the prices of tobacco products through specific taxation will discourage youths from using tobacco and encourage the existing users, particularly those financially vulnerable, to quit.

Experts said this Monday at the online discussion "Tobacco Tax and Price Measures for a Tobacco-Free Bangladesh: Reality and the Way Forward" organised by Progga and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance.

However, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change, said: "We raise our demand to increase tobacco taxes each year before the budget. Unfortunately, the national budget never reflects our demand."

Also read: Doctors for raising tobacco tax to protect public health

Dr Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), said, one of the major impediments in realising such proposals in the national budget is the government's investment in British American Tobacco Bangladesh and the tobacco industry's influence on the NBR.

He called on the finance minister to increase the prices of tobacco products in the upcoming budget and also to divest the government's involvement in a tobacco company.

The convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said: "It is quite frustrating for us to find NBR saying increasing tobacco taxes would harm the poor. The reality is quite the opposite. An increase in tobacco taxes benefits the poor the most."

He also called for the reinstatement of export duty on tobacco.

The Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies Dr Mahfuz Kabir said the users of low-tier cigarettes constitute around 70% of total smokers. "So, if we can increase the price of this tier through specific taxation and raise it closer to the medium-tier, it would not only reduce use but also increase government revenue manifold."

Specific taxes are levied on the quantity of a good or service sold. Also known as a per unit tax, they are applied as a fixed amount for each unit of a good or service sold.

Abdul Quayum, the associate editor of the Daily Prothom Alo, said, "Use of bidi and cigarettes causes diseases and thus increases medical expenses which, in turn, makes the poor even poorer."

Additional Director-General of Directorate General of Health Services Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said reducing the affordability and use of cigarettes through tax increases allows the people, particularly the poor, to spend more on nutrition and other necessities.

Source: United News of Bangladesh