VOICE project coordinator Zayed Siddiki, presenting a keynote paper, said that the proposed budget keeps the previous rate of supplementary duties on all four tiers of cigarettes unchanged.

On 9 May, VOICE recommended fixing the excise tax at 65 per cent of retail price of all cigarettes, instead of 57 per cent and 65 per cent excise on lower-tier and premium brands respectively. Additionally, 15 per cent value added tax and one per cent health development surcharge to the retail price was proposed.

Zayed said that sales of cigarettes would have reduced to 5.4 billion packs in fiscal 2021-22 if the government considered the recommendations by the anti-tobacco group. According to his keynote, the proposed budget would reduce the sales of cigarettes only to 6.2 billion packs from 6.4 billion packs.

Anti-tobacco campaigner and former chairman of National Board of Revenue Nasiruddin Ahmed said the Control of Essential Commodities Act 1956, which classifies cigarettes as ‘essential commodities’, needs to be amended.

He also suggested endorsing an anti-tobacco roadmap and withdrawing the government’s stakes from the tobacco companies to help make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040.

Citing that the finance minister tried to relieve the cheap tobacco consumers from the excise tax in the time of pandemic, Progga’s head of tobacco control programme Hasan Shahriar said the government should fix a unique tax burden on all types of tobacco consumers as the products are equally harmful for the wealthy and poor people.

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids’ grants manager Abdus Salam and lead policy advisor Md Mustafizur Rahman, Anti-tobacco media alliance organiser Nadira Kiron, Amader Orthoniti executive editor Biswajit Dutta and The Business Standard journalist Abbas Uddin Noyon, also spoke.

VOICE executive director Ahmed Swapan Mahmud anchored the media brief.

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