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Lower Income Group’s Health Protection Neglected in Proposed Budget 

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To protect the next generation from the deadly grasp of tobacco and to reduce the number of new tobacco users, Dhaka Ahsania Mission has demanded an increase in the price of tobacco products in line with inflation. This demand was made at an event titled ‘Post-Budget Reaction: Tobacco Pricing and Taxation,’ held on Monday (June 10, 2024) at the Meeting Room of Health Sector of Dhaka Ahsania Mission.

The keynote paper was delivered by Iqbal Masud, Director of the Health and WASH Sector of Dhaka Ahsania Mission. He pointed out that in recent years, the prices of essential goods have increased significantly, but the prices of tobacco products have not risen at the same rate. Moreover, the rate of tobacco tax increases in Bangladesh is comparatively much lower than in neighboring countries.

In the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2024-25, the retail price of 10-stick low-tier cigarettes has been increased from 45 Taka to 50 Taka, meaning the price per stick has only gone up by 50 paise. Meanwhile, although the budget has increased the prices of cigarettes, jarda and gul, the price of bidis has remained unchanged. The bidi consumption rate is higher among the lower-income group in the country. As a result, the proposed budget has overlooked their health protection.

Over the past few years, the prices of essential commodities have increased by 40 percent to almost 90 percent. However, in the proposed budget, the prices of tobacco products have only been raised by 4.48 percent to 11.11 percent. Meanwhile, per capita income has increased by about 12 percent in the fiscal year 2024-25 compared to 2023-24. Although the prices of essential items have risen accordingly, tobacco products remain affordable for the young and poor population.

This nominal increase in the price of tobacco products will not discourage the poor and young population from smoking. Considering the increase in per capita income and inflation, the real price of cigarettes has actually decreased compared to previous years. Consequently, the use of cheap cigarettes is likely to increase at an alarming rate, significantly heightening their health risks.

In Bangladesh, more than 35 percent of adults use tobacco, and over 161,000 people die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Suppose the anti-tobacco proposals are implemented in the final budget. In that case, it will be possible to prevent the premature deaths of more than 1.1 million people, including nearly 500,000 young individuals, in the long term.

Therefore, if the prices and taxes of tobacco products are not increased at the rates proposed by anti-tobacco organizations, the government will lose the opportunity to collect an additional 10,000 core Taka in revenue, and the health costs of tobacco-related diseases will increase. Additionally, out-of-pocket expenditure for the general population will rise.

At the event, Mukhlesur Rahman, Deputy Director of the Health Sector of Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Shariful Islam, Project Coordinator of the Tobacco Control Project, and many others were present.

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