Bidis or bananas?
You know how sometimes the thing you really should do is the thing you least want to do? I recently chaired a panel on tobacco taxation at a conference in Dhaka on evidence-based steps towards reducing tobacco use. The most effective step is to make tobacco less affordable, which essentially means taxation. Alas, taxation is also the issue that activists tend to find the least comfortable to address. Numbers? Percentages? Confusing policies? Most people feel far more comfortable with issues like point-of-sale advertising or graphic warnings or smoke-free places. Important as those may be, they will not reduce tobacco use as effectively as making it more expensive.
Here in Bangladesh, the cheapest thing one can buy is tobacco: tobacco is, in that sense, far more affordable than a banana. That’s crazy. It is food, not tobacco, that should be within the reach of people’s budgets. I published research on this many years ago (that continues to be widely cited and is available for free.
We will never get more sensible taxation policies if we do not overcome our fear of the issue. HealthBridge and other organizations are supporting local advocacy groups to learn more about the issue of taxation so that people can speak with confidence on the issue—and learn to understand the difference between a strong and weak tax proposal. Here’s hoping that in the near future, people will find that healthy foods are far cheaper than tobacco!
- Read about tobacco taxation in Vietnam, in our 2016-17 annual report.
- Learn more about our work in tobacco control.