Philippines: DoH backs higher tobacco tax to fund universal health care

5 November 2018:
By Charmaine A. Tadalan
Source: BusinessWorld

THE Department of Health (DoH) on Monday said it is seeking higher tobacco taxes to increase funding of the Universal Health Care (UHC) bill, which will cost around P257 billion in the first year of implementation.

“Taking into account the existing budget, the funding gap is estimated to be around P164.04 billion,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a briefing on Monday.

“Additional revenue from the proposed increase in tobacco taxes are an important means to lessen or address precisely the funding gaps.”

The DoH said it backs a proposal to increase the excise tax on tobacco products to P90 per pack from the current P32.50.

He said increased taxes can reduce smoking prevalence to 15.7% from 21.6% of the population and ultimately reduce smoking-related illnesses.

“Estimates show that if tobacco taxes are pegged at P90, around 1 million tobacco-attributable deaths could be averted,” Mr. Duque said.

Mr. Duque cited a recent Pulse Asia survey which found that 67% of the population approved of an increase in the tax on cigarettes and that 64% will support politicians in favor of raising the tax.

The same survey also found that 40% of the respondents who are current smokers support higher taxes.

The UHC bill was approved on third reading in both chambers of Congress and is up before the Bicameral Conference Committee.

World Health Organization representative to the Philippines, Dr. Gundo Weiler, said the government’s Universal Health Care legislation was a step in the right direction.

“It’s really great,” Mr. Weiler said, adding: “There will be economic returns for the population. We know that for every dollar a country invests into UHC, there will be a 140% return to the economy (in the form of) savings.”