Civil society organisation (CSO) leaders and anti-tobacco campaigners on Saturday urged the government to withdraw its investment from tobacco companies to keep its promise for a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040.
They suggested adopting a comprehensive tobacco tax policy including end of the preferential tax treatments for the tobacco companies.
Political parties and the government needed to make a political commitment to achieve the goal, they said, speaking at a meeting, organised by VOICE, a rights-based research and advocacy platform.
The meeting was organised to disseminate findings of a study titled "Tobacco Company Interference with Tobacco Taxation Process in Bangladesh" at CIRDAP auditorium in the city.
The speakers also urged the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to give preference to public health over the profitability of tobacco companies as the tobacco tax would constitute just a fraction of the amount people and the government spend on health issues caused due to using tobacco.
They urged the government to prohibit tobacco company representatives and affiliates from being involved directly or indirectly in the tobacco control agenda setting process, policymaking, and other government positions that pose inherent conflicts of interest.
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of VOICE, presented the keynote paper based on the study findings and said many strong pieces of evidence of illegal interference by tobacco industries have come out as the findings.
To understand the types and extent of influence on tax policy making in Bangladesh, researchers conducted 23 key interviews during March to May 2021 with 4 types of stakeholders in the tobacco control policy: policymakers, journalists, tobacco control practitioners and researchers.
The key tobacco tax policy stakeholders indicated that there is a high stake of involvement of the industry in the tax policy making process. The study found that the tobacco companies have close ties and mutually beneficial relationships with various government offices and high-ranking individuals.
According to the findings, the tobacco companies are given preferential treatment during key tax policy reform processes.
Participants of the study reported that the NBR will not impose any new tax provisions on tobacco until they reach an agreement with the companies on their economic contribution.
They claimed that the tobacco companies provide gifts in cash and kind as well as trips abroad to NBR and other relevant government officials in exchange for greater input and favorable consideration in the tax reform process.
The government endorses tobacco company donations and other corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, the study finds.
Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of PKSF and former NBR chairmen Muhammad Abdul Mazid and Dr. Nasiruddin Ahmed spoke.
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