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Tobacco tax collection system needs to be digitized to prevent tax evasion

With the exception of the tobacco sector, the Government of Bangladesh has largely digitalized tax management to simplify and modernize the tax collection process. But the collection of tobacco tax has not yet touched that modernity. There is no strong market monitoring system for the use and verification of conventional banderole / tax stamps as a means of tax collection of tobacco products. As a result, companies are getting the opportunity to evade large sums of tax. The tax collection system needs to be digitalized to prevent this evasion by the tobacco companies.

On 24th May, 2021, the Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance (BATA), Bangladesh National Tuberculosis Prevention Association (NATAB), Tobacco Control Research Cell (TCRC) and WBB Trust jointly organized an online meeting titled ‘Tobacco Tax Increase and Need for Modernization’.

Former Food Minister Md. Kamrul Islam (MP, Dhaka-2), former Chief Whip Abdus Shahid (MP, Moulovibazar-4), Md. Nurul Islam Talukder (MP, Bogra-3), Barrister Shameem Haider Patwari (MP, Gaibanda-1), MP Adiba Anjum Mita, Saifuddin Ahmed (Coordinator, Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance), Ad. Syed Mahbubul Alam (TA, The Union) was attended at the meeting was chaired by Mozaffar Hossain Paltu (President, NATAB; Advisor, Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance). Methun Baidya (Project Officer, WBB Trust) presented the keynote address at the meeting. The event was hosted by Syeda Anonna Rahman (Project Manager, WBB Trust). The meeting was also attended by the representatives of various organizations working on tobacco control across the country.

In his welcome speech, Saifuddin Ahmed said that the main purpose of tobacco control is to control the smokers and to keep the newcomers away from tobacco. Increasing taxes on tobacco control is an effective way to implement the main objective. But the current tax structure of tobacco products is very complex, multi-tired and its management system is not effective. This is creating an opportunity for tobacco companies to evade taxes and the government is losing revenue.

Mozaffar Hossain Paltu said that if digital technology is used in the tax monitoring system of tobacco, it will be possible to get the right idea about the supply chain, starting from collecting taxpayer information and increasing the tax rate. By doing so, it will be possible to increase the company's additional revenue and prevent tax evasion and make the tax collection process easier.

Md. Abdus Shahid MP said, our national economy is being harmed due to tobacco. Government revenue collection from this sector and necessary information in this regard must be submitted to the appropriate authority. Besides, by increasing the maximum price and tax of tobacco, tobacco products should be taken out of the purchasing power of the consumers.

Adv. Md. Kamrul Islam MP said, there are many achievements in tobacco control in the country. Smoking on public transport and availability of tobacco advertising has been stopped. Even after that, the tobacco companies own different types of actions to evade taxes. He emphasized to work together to minimize the revenue evasion by tobacco companies.

Barrister Shamem Haider Patwari MP said that in case of tax assessment, the different price level of cigarettes should be abolished and a certain amount of tax should be levied at a relatively high rate. At the same time companies need to be constrained to pay with transparency. High tax rates and sound tax management not only control the use of tobacco products but also reduce the government's huge spending on the health sector to address the health problems caused by tobacco.

Adiba Anjum Mita MP said that tobacco companies are making various efforts to prevent the increase in tobacco tax in the budget. Trapped in such a ploy, we shouldn’t work for tobacco companies that produce products that are harmful to public health. Members of Parliament are representatives of the people. They have to be careful about all these activities of the tobacco company.

Md. Nurul Islam Talukder MP said that the movement to increase tobacco tax should be continued in order to build a tobacco free Bangladesh as per the conviction of the Prime Minister. In order to control tobacco, the availability of this product should be reduced by increasing the price of all tobacco related products.

Adv. Syed Mahbubul Alam said MPs are playing an important role in tobacco control. However, in the budget the tax on tobacco is not increasing at the expected rate in the country. Tobacco companies oppose the tax increase, citing increased smuggling and tax evasion. However, there is no link between smuggling and tax evasion with tax increase. This is just a ploy by the tobacco companies to confuse the policy makers including the National Board of Revenue (NBR).

In the presentation of the main article, Methun Baidya said that the number of consumers of tobacco products is increasing as tobacco products are cheap and easily available, which is dangerous to health and safety. The financial difference between the revenue earnings and expenditure of tobacco is about eight Tk.8000 crore. One and a half times more than the revenue earnings from tobacco tax is spent on the treatment of sick people under the influence of tobacco. To reduce tobacco use and prevent tax evasion, it is necessary to increase taxes on all tobacco products and digitalize the tobacco tax system.

The meeting was attended by Prattasha Anti-Drug Organization, Prattasha Social Development Organization, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, BNTTP, SEIAM, DAS, AID Foundation, DAS Bangladesh, WAPE, Share Foundation, SHARP, CSDO, KHRDS, IWB, CIDAS, Agradut, local representatives of Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance and NATAB from all over the country including Barapukat Ganachetana Foundation and representatives of organizations working on tobacco control activity.