Local and international health advocates urge senators to pass sin tax law
Manila, Philippines – Local and international health advocates yesterday asked Filipino senators to pass the sin tax law to insulate children and the youth from smoking by making cigarettes more expensive.
The call was made by the Department of Health (DOH), World Health Organization (WHO), Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children, Action for Economic Reforms and New Vois Association in a press briefing.
House Bill 5727 or the so-called Abaya bill is expected to generate some P33 billion in revenues on the first year of its implementation.
It is scheduled to be deliberated upon by the Senate after it was approved by the House of Representatives last May.
According to WHO Country Representative Soe Nyunt-U, they are deeply concerned “about the aggressive lobbying of the tobacco industry to water down the proposed sin tax law.”
“Raising tobacco taxes will spare this generation of Filipino children from unnecessary suffering from tobacco-related cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. It is critical that the new sin tax law will raise prices to a level that will make it difficult for children to buy cigarettes and will discourage current smokers from continuing with this deadly habit,” he said.
Based on previous studies, Soe said that “increasing tobacco taxes by 10 percent will decrease tobacco consumption by four to eight percent.”
Given the 17.3 million smokers in the Philippines, raising tobacco taxes will encourage 1.4 million Filipinos to stop smoking, Soe said.
According to Susan Mercado, team leader of the Tobacco Free Initiatives of the WHO-Western Pacific Region Office, the Philippines has the “second to the lowest price” of cigarettes in the region.
“Currently, one out of three Filipino boys 13 to 15 years old smokes or 28 percent of boys are smoking. The regional average is only 15 percent. This means that smoking among boys here is about twice that of the entire region,” she said.
Mercado added that “unless something is done to deter youth smoking, it is estimated that male adult smoking will continue to increase.”
“And it could increase to a point where a significant portion of Filipino boys will die before the age of 65 from a tobacco-related disease. What is a price that is unaffordable? Let me ask you – how much is the allowance of your son? Cigarettes in the Philippines are cheaper than candy. Single stick sales to minors also need to be addressed. If we are serious about the health of Filipino children, we need to increase the price of cigarettes to a level where it is a luxury,” she said.
DOH Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial had urged to senators to “pass the tobacco tax reform now” as the Philippines is a party to the WHO-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world’s first treaty on public health.
Ubial said FCTC has been ratified by the Senate in 2005 but “up to now we have not complied with all the provisions of the FCTC and reforming our tobacco tax is one of the requirements of FCTC.”