The government has finally framed a policy on the use of health development surcharge it imposed on tobacco products three and half years ago.
The health and family welfare ministry on Wednesday issued the gazette notification of Health Development Surcharge Management Policy-2017, identifying 16 sectors for spending the fund on.
The fund will mainly be used for limiting the demand for and supply of tobacco products, financing tobacco control activities, conducting researches and campaigns, and operating Tobacco Tax Cell of the National Board of Revenue.
The revenue board in July, 2014 imposed 1 per cent surcharge on all tobacco products, both locally produced and imported ones, aiming to spend the fund for implementing the programmes to control and discourage the use of tobacco products and prevent tobacco-related diseases.
In the last three fiscal years (2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17), the tax authority collected around Tk 900 crore as health development surcharge from tobacco products including cigarette, bidi, gul, zarda and other smoking and chewing tobacco products.
But the fund remains idle as the health ministry has not got the access to the fund over the years as there was no policy on how to the money be used.
Officials of the revenue board said that formulation of the policy had paved the way for utilising the fund for tobacco control and prevention of tobacco-related diseases.
They said that every year around Tk 300 crore would be added to the fund.
According to the policy, the collected surcharge will be used for financing national tobacco control activities, operation of the NTCC under the ministry, campaigns in the mass media on health hazards of tobacco products and tobacco control and providing trainings to stakeholders.
The fund will also be used for setting up National Quitline, a hotline, to help people quit tobacco consumption and providing financial and technical support to organisations for implementation of programmes to prevent tobacco-related non-communicable diseases.
Programmes will also be taken to create awareness among farmers against tobacco cultivation and motivate them to cultivate alternative crops, according to the policy.
According to the policy, a Health Development Surcharge Management Committee headed by the health minister will supervise the proper use of the fund.
The National Tobacco Control Cell will provide secretarial support to the committee.
Fund from other sources such as possible imposition of any surcharge on products hazardous to health in
future and donations from local and foreign sources will also be added to the fund, it said.
The expenditures from the fund will be audited in line with the methodology followed for the other government agencies, it said.
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey-2009, some 4.13 crore people or 43 per cent of the total population of Bangladesh consume tobacco products. On the other hand, 4.30 crore people are victims of indirect smoking.
According to the World Health Organisation’s 2004 data, 57,000 people die every year in Bangladesh suffering from tobacco-related diseases.
The government has taken an initiative to make the country smoking free by 2040.
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