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JTI Plea For Cigarette Import Rejected

February 03, 2020

The government has turned down a proposal put forward by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) to commercially import finished cigarette into Bangladesh, officials said. JTI has recently requested the commerce ministry to issue import registration certificate (IRC) for bringing in finished cigarette, they added. International tobacco manufacturer, JTI, signed a US$ 1,476 million deal last year to acquire the tobacco business of Akij Group, the second largest tobacco company in Bangladesh, and enter the country's Tk 330 billion cigarette market.

In response to the request, the ministry has rejected the proposal considering protecting the public health, said a high official who deals with the issues. More recently, the National Board of Revenue has also asked the commerce ministry not to issue IRC in favour of JTI for commercial import of cigarette.

When contacted, deputy secretary of the commerce ministry Mohammad Monir Hossain Hawlader said, "The Japan Tobacco Inc that inked an agreement with Akij's concern United Dhaka Tobacco last year for buying its shares, has applied to provide IRC for importing finished cigarette for marketing here." He added: "We have declined to provide IRC in favour of JTI which is issued by the office of the chief controller of imports and exports." Usually, he said, the government does not allow import of such items that are harmful to public health.

People familiar with the sector said if foreign brand cigarettes sell cheaper in the market, more consumers will become addicted to smoking. If JTI gets IRC, they said, other tobacco companies could also propose providing them with it to commercially import finished cigarette instead of producing locally. As a result, selling competition among cigarette importers could pose severe threat to public health, they also mentioned.

NBR source said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already identified tobacco as one of the impediments towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and declared her commitment to transforming the country into a tobacco-free one by 2040. He believes that for proper implementation of PM's directives, the government should not issue IRC to any tobacco company.

Foreign investment is substantial in several tobacco companies in Bangladesh, including British-American Tobacco Company which is the top market player.

According to Progotir Jonno Gyan (PROGGA), an anti-tobacco research organisation, tobacco kills over 162,100 people in Bangladesh a year. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017, 35.3 per cent of adults in Bangladesh consume tobacco on smoked or in smokeless form.

Besides, 39 per cent adults at home and 44 per cent people at their workplaces are exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly seven per cent schoolchildren also use tobacco.

According to the draft National Tobacco Control Policy, annual financial losses from tobacco use in the fiscal year 2017-18 were over Tk 300 billion, much higher than revenue income of Tk 228 billion from the sector the same year.

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Source: The Financial Express