The government has not invited the tobacco industry or its representatives to sit on the government interagency/advisory group body that sets public health policy. While the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has shown commitment to advancing tobacco control, the Ministry of Finance, especially the National Board of Revenues (NBR), has been utilized by the tobacco industry as its conduit to influence policy. Following a request from the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association at a meeting in October 2019, the NBR requested the MoHFW to consider the industry’s opinion before finalizing the National Tobacco Control Policy 2019.
On September 25, 2019, BAT Bangladesh donated a hefty sum of money to the Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation. BAT Bangladesh representatives handed the check over to the State Minister for Labour and Employment. The news and picture of the donation acceptance event was later publicized on the Ministry’s official Facebook page.
The existing 10% export duty on unmanufactured tobacco was withdrawn in the budget FY 2018-19. The NBR amended the VAT and Supplementary Duty Act 2012 and offered tax credits to tobacco companies from the budget FY 2018-19. The NBR reduced the supplementary duty on non-filter bidi from 35% to 30% by issuing a Statutory Regulatory Order to accommodate the demands raised by the bidi industry.
The implementation of pictorial health warnings (PHW) on cigarette packs has been delayed since the High Court postponed the government order dated July 4, 2017, following the further review petition by Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association. Implementation of PHW remains uncertain to this date.
The government did not enter into new collaborative agreements with the tobacco industry on enforcement or public education programs such as conducting raids on tobacco smuggling or enforcing rules on disallowing sales to minors. However, the Minister of Finance awarded bidi companies for being top VAT payers and smokeless tobacco companies for being top taxpayers on behalf of the NBR.
In November 2019, the Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh, in a bilateral meeting with the Industry Minister, requested “rational” changes to the country’s excise tax on tobacco based on the fact that Japan Tobacco International generates large amounts of revenue for the government.
BAT Bangladesh’s partnership with the Department of Agriculture Extension continued in 2019.
In April 2019, the NBR held a pre-budget meeting with the BCMA. In October 2019, the NBR conducted a meeting with tobacco industry representatives as revenue collection from the tobacco sector declined from July to August 2019 compared to the previous year. However, details of these meetings were not disclosed.
The newly-retired Managing Director of Investment Corporation of Bangladesh, Mr. Kazi Sanaul Hoq, took up the position of Non-Executive Director of BAT Bangladesh. The government continues to hold 9.61% investment in BAT Bangladesh. There is no policy in place to prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry. However, election candidates are required to disclose contributions received to bear election expense at the time of submitting nomination papers according to section 44A of the Representation of the People Order, 1972.
The government has made some progress towards preventive measures. The National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) drafted two codes of conduct based on WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3, one for NTCC and another for all government officials. A meeting was conducted to review the drafts in January 2019, however the codes are yet to be finalized.
Under the NBR, the government requires the tobacco industry to submit monthly revenue statements and statements of health surcharge deposits. However, tobacco companies are not required to submit information on their market share, marketing expenditures, revenues, philanthropy or political contributions.
- The MoHFW should undertake awareness-raising for non-health sectors about WHO FCTC Article 5.3 obligations.
- Tobacco-related CSR activities must be banned.
- The government must formulate a simple tobacco tax policy and increase tobacco prices to reduce demand for tobacco products.
- The government must divest its investment from tobacco companies by 2022.
- The government must remove all incentives provided to the tobacco industry including the exemption of export duty and VAT in the national budget.
- The government must not allow new foreign tobacco companies to invest in Bangladesh.
- The government must expedite the adoption of a code of conduct for all officials in interacting with the tobacco industry by 2021.
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