Bidi workers demand tobacco tax hike in FY 2024-25 Budget

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In order to protect public health and to implement the pledge to make Bangladesh tobacco-free before 2040 announced by the Honorable Prime Minister, the bidi workers of Tangail district on Thursday (18 April 2024) held a human chain program in front of the National Press Club demanding higher tax on all types of tobacco products in the budget of the upcoming fiscal year 2024-25.

The workers also demanded alternative employment for bidi workers to reduce their health risk and for ensuring better lives.

According to data from a World Health Organization study on tobacco use in Bangladesh, if the Bangladesh government reforms the existing tobacco tax system in fiscal year 2024-25, about 1.5 million adults will be encouraged to quit smoking, and about 1 million youths will be discouraged from starting to consume tobacco In the long run, lives of about 1.1 million people will be saved from premature death due to tobacco use. Price increase at a lower tier will encourage relatively low-income smokers to quit, and cigarette price increase at a higher level will discourage smokers from choosing the cheaper brands. Reforming the taxation system through the introduction of specific taxes, recommended by the World Health Organization (which is common in most countries of the world), will strengthen the effectiveness of the cigarette taxation framework.

Partaking in the human chain, General Secretary of Tangail Bidi Workers Union Shah Alam said, “We are constantly facing various health hazards like respiratory diseases, heart disease, lung and oral cancer, mental fatigue etc. because we are involved in the production of tobacco products. In this process we are only involved out of poverty as we do not have any other employment opportunities. However, we want higher taxes on tobacco products and increased prices for public health safety. Besides, we (bidi workers) should be provided with alternative employment.”

He also commented that to prevent the youth from smoking, the tax rate on cheap bidis and cigarettes should be increased massively so that they are no longer affordable.

Treasurer of Tangail Bidi Sramik Union Jayamoni Begum called on the government to increase the price of tobacco products by increasing the tax to protect the health of the low-income population.

Joint General Secretary of Tangail Bidi Workers’ Union Jasim demanded that the price of lowest tier cigarettes should be kept at a minimum of Tk 60 per 10-stick pack so that low income people are discouraged from consuming tobacco.
Many more of the bidi workers took part in the human chain and spoke demanding an increase in the tax on tobacco products. Besides, they shed light on the issues like child labor in bidi factories, increasing budget allocation to eliminate health risks, taking initiatives to prevent non-communicable diseases, increasing wages, etc.
The program was supported by the Development Organization of the Rural Poor (DORP) and the DORP Youth Forum. Mr. Abdus Salam Miah, Programs Manager, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Bangladesh and Mrs. Rubina Islam, Program Coordinator, DORP, also spoke in solidarity with the bidi workers demanding a tax hike on tobacco products.

To ensure public health protection, bidi workers’ demands are, ensuring minimum retail price of Tk60 per 10 cigarettes at low tier, minimum retail price of Tk80 per 10 cigarettes at mid tier, minimum retail price of 130 per 10 cigarettes at high tier and at premium tier Fixing the minimum retail price of 10-sticks at Tk170.

After the program, a delegation of bidi workers submitted a memorandum to the chairman of the National Board of Revenue.

It should be noted that Bangladesh is determined to achieve the goals related to tobacco control as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3 and the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. A tax increase on tobacco is a cost-effective measure to achieve these goals. At the same time, one of the most effective ways to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 is to increase taxes on tobacco products.

DORP has been involved in various development programs since 1987 and is best known for introducing maternity allowance. In line with this, DORP is currently working on tobacco control law amendment and increasing tobacco taxes and implementing various projects to achieve the SDGs.