8 December 2016, Manila – “Disregarding the major public health gains of the tobacco tax reforms enacted in 2012, some Philippine legislators decided to promote tobacco industry interests rather than protect public health.” This was the conclusion of the internationally recognized Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), when HB 4144 was approved on second reading only two days after the Lower House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Dakila Cua approved it without considering the alternative HB 4575.
HB 4144, filed by ABS Partylist Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera and supported by the Northern Luzon Alliance, seeks to retain the current two-tier excise tax structure for cigarettes instead of the unitary tax rate that should come into effect on 1 January 2017 as mandated by the sin tax reform law (RA 10351). The Northern Luzon Alliance is led by Majority Floor Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, Ilocos Sur Rep. Eric Singson, and Quezon City Rep. Bingbong Crisologo.
The alternative bill, HB 4575 filed by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, seeks to protect public health by strengthening the current sin tax law by maintaining the single tax rate on cigarettes at a higher rate of P40 per pack.
“The Philippine Sin Tax Law is a shining example for other countries because after its implementation, smoking declined, especially among the youth and the poor, the vulnerable sectors of our society, and the government was able to earmark funds for universal health coverage of poor families,” says Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA’s FCTC Program Director. “ RA 10351 was signed into law after many long months of congressional debate and public scrutiny, but that struggle was worth it. This success story has been affirmed repeatedly by SEATCA, as well as by the World Health Organization, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and various international public health organizations.”
“HB 4144 is economically unsound because two tiers will be more difficult for the government to administer than a unitary rate, and tobacco companies will make cheaper cigarettes to avoid paying more taxes. As a result, more people will smoke and die from smoking. Only the tobacco companies will benefit,” added Ms. Sophapan Ratanachena, SEATCA’s tobacco tax program manager.”
“SEATCA and its partners in all ASEAN countries stand in solidarity with public health advocates in the Philippines in supporting HB 4575, which is pro-poor and pro-health, and opposing HB 4144, which stands only for vested interests. A higher unitary rate that will significantly increase prices will reduce downshifting to cheaper brands, discourage consumption, and save more lives,” said Dorotheo.
The Sin Tax Law (RA 10351) was signed into law in 2012, after being stalled at the committee level in the House of Representatives for more than 15 years. ##
Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Officer – SEATCA
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