By: Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com
May 24, 2014
MANILA, Philippines — Winning an award for the Sin Tax Reform Law is a reminder of how much more needs to be done to curb tobacco use, an official who accepted the honor on behalf of the Department of Health on Thursday said.
The award given by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance at the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila cited the departments of Health and Finance for the passage and implementation of the law and commanded President Benigno Aquino III for his “unwavering political will” in enacting the measure.
The law was hailed by WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Julie Lyn Hall as a “brave and very important piece of legislation” and by SEATCA director Bungon Ritthiphakdee as a success against the interference of the tobacco industry.
WHO Western Pacific Region-Building Healthy Communities and Populations director Dr. Susan Mercado also noted that the Philippines won the World No Tobacco Award last year for the same law.
“It’s not easy to raise tobacco taxes, and they have shown how it has been done,” she said.
During a press conference following the awarding ceremonies, however, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa said the Sin Tax Reform Law is not enough. News reports show the prevalence of smoking has not gone down since the law was enacted in late 2012.
“My answer to that is, it was watered down,” he said.
Herbosa explained that they wanted higher taxes, but lawmakers lowered these to protect tobacco farmers.
“We should really fight more for the health effects of good taxation,” he said, noting that only by raising the text to 70 percent of the cigarette price would the positive effects become evident. For one, this would price cigarettes beyond the reach of children.
Hall agreed, saying the impact of cigarette prices on young people “is extremely strong” and is three times as effective in deterring them from smoking or making them quit as on adults.
Herbosa pointed out that some of the top global killers, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes can be prevented by curbing smoking.
Ritthiphakdee said taxing tobacco is the most effective instrument to bring consumption down and while Southeast Asia has many good practices in this regard, it has not gone far enough because cigarettes remain “highly affordable.”
Herbosa said if he could have his way, he would peg the price of a pack of cigarettes at P500.
However, he acknowledged that there are social repercussions to be considered, among these depriving street vendors of work, which would make them unable to send their children to school.
This has not been a problem in other countries that have raised cigarette prices since they have alternative jobs available.
He said the battle has currently shifted to the issue of of graphic health warnings.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said Wednesday that the Graphic Health Warning Bill (http://www.interaksyon.com/article/87347/graphic-health-warning-bill-to-become-law-next-month-says-drilon) would become a law by June.
Senate Bill 499, which he filed, and Senator Pia Cayetano’s Senate Bill 27, seek to place photographic warnings on cigarette packaging to discourage smoking.
Cayetano’s bill requires the graphic to cover 60 percent of the packaging.
The DOH had been fighting for the passage of the measure as early as 2006, when the Senate ratified the World Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, which calls for both taxation and graphic warnings.
The DOH also released an administrative order requiring cigarette companies to put graphic health warnings on their packaging but this was opposed by tobacco companies, who obtained a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, Herbosa said.
“We’re pushing (the case) up to the Supreme Court,” he said but stressed that the issue would become moot once Congress passes the law.
Even then, he acknowledged, more battles are likely to be waged over to the size of the graphic.
There are other ways to help curb tobacco use, said Mercado, among these banning tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; banning indoor smoking in public areas; and plain packaging containing nothing but a graphic warning.
(P. 10/Nation section-print version)