Increase in price and tax share and structural reform recommended

Bangladesh Lagging Far Behind Toppers in Cigarette Tax Scorecard

Published : 11 May 2022, 16:32

Sahos Desk

Bangladesh is still lagging far behind the top-performing countries in the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard. In 2021, Bangladesh has bagged a score of 2.63 on a scale of 5. The latest report shows ample opportunity for Bangladesh to improve its performance by increasing the prices of cigarettes, increasing the tax share of price, and improving the existing tobacco tax structure. The Cigarette Tax Scorecard, an initiative of the Tobacconomics program of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), assesses the performance of cigarette tax policies in 160 countries. This is the 2nd report of its kind. The findings of the Bangladesh part of this year's report were unveiled today (11 May 2022, Wednesday) in a virtual event, organized by research and anti-tobacco advocacy organization PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) with support from Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids (CTFK). 

The latest edition of the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard presents an actionable assessment of the cigarette tax policies of 160 countries, using data of the year 2020 from the World Health Organization's biennial Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic. The report focuses on four key dimensions of cigarette tax systems: A) Cigarette prices, B) Changes in cigarette affordability over time, C) Share of taxes in retail cigarette prices, and D) Cigarette tax structure. 

While the latest scorecard shows Bangladesh performing better in 2020 (score 2.63) than it did in 2018 (score 2.38), the country has seen virtually no progress in cigarette prices and tax structure reform. Bangladesh has scored only 1 (one) in both of these two cases. The flawed multi-tiered ad valorem tax structure and low base prices of cigarettes have prevented Bangladesh from emerging as a top-performing country on the scorecard.

Compared to the 2018, the latest study findings hardly show any improvement in the global scenario, as the average global score reached 2.28 from 2.07 in the previous report. 113 of the 160 countries scored 3 or below. New Zealand and Ecuador scored the highest with scores of 4.63, followed by the United Kingdom and Canada, with scores of 4.38 and 4.25, respectively. The top-performing countries have either introduced uniform specific excise tax (often considered the best possible taxation method in cigarettes) or mixed taxation (both specific excise tax and ad valorem tax).

As the chief guest of the event, eminent economist and convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, "The study findings can help our policymakers to adopt effective tobacco tax policies. The prices of cigarettes and other tobacco products should be hiked to bring these products beyond the purchasing power of the people. Without such measure, the realization of the Prime Minister's vision to build a tobacco-free country would be impossible". 

Dr. Nigar Nargis, Senior Scientific Director, Tobacco Control Research of the American Cancer Society and a member of the Tobacconomics team, presented the findings. "When it comes to cigarette tax structure, Bangladesh should introduce uniform specific excise taxes instead of multi-tiered ad valorem taxes and annually adjust tax rates with inflation and economic growth. At the same time, taxes on cigarettes should be increased considerably," she said. 

Vandana Shah, Regional Director, South Asia programs, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), said, "Although Bangladesh has made some significant progress in tobacco control, it is still lagging behind in tobacco tax and price measures. Govt. can improve public health and increase revenue by introducing effective tobacco price and tax measures in line with FCTC Article 6." 

The event, hosted by Md. Hasan Shahriar, Project Head of Tobacco Control, PROGGA, identified tobacco industry interference as one of the key impediments to effectively increasing prices and taxes of tobacco products. Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Bangladesh Lead Policy Advisor, CTFK presided over the event. The panel of discussants includes Md. Shafiqul Islam, Head of Programs, Bangladesh, Policy Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies; Syed Mahbubul Alam, Technical Advisor, The Union; and ABM Zubair, Executive Director, PROGGA. The event was also attended by representatives from different media and anti-tobacco organizations. 

It should be noted that 35.3 percent of Bangladeshi adults use tobacco. 38.4 million adults fall victims to secondhand smoke in public places, workspaces, and public transportation. Tobacco claims 161,000 lives a year in Bangladesh. In FY 2017-18, tobacco use incurred a financial loss (medical expenses and loss of productivity) of BDT 30,560 crore, 1.4 percent of GDP.

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