The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) welcomes the expressed willingness of new Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona to push for higher tobacco taxes, a move that, if carried through, would bring the Philippine policies in line with global commitments for curbing tobacco use.
SEATCA’s Philippine partners report that Dr. Ona, in a dialogue with health nongovernmental organizations last week, encouraged the advocates to push for tobacco taxes equivalent to as much as 10 US cents (or PHP4.50) per stick.
The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or WHO FCTC, to which the Philippines is a party, say that raising tobacco prices through tax increases “is an effective and important means of reducing tobacco consumption… particularly (among) young persons (Article 6).”
Experience in other countries show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.
In Thailand, which has increased tobacco taxes eight times from 1994-2007, smoking prevalence among young smokers and the poorest sector have decreased more than 50 percent over the same period.
“At the same time that governments save lives and protect public health, raising tobacco taxes is also good for bolstering government coffers” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Project director of SEATCA’s Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax (SITT).
In Southeast Asia, however, tax and price measures for tobacco control have yet to be fully utilized by governments. Ideally, tobacco taxes should be more than 65 percent of retail price, as recommended by the World Bank. Singapore’s tobacco tax is at 69 percent of the retail price, while Thailand is at 70 percent, the highest in the region.
Currently, Philippines has among the lowest cigarette prices in the region with cigarette excise tax ranging from 14% to 42% of gross retail price. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey of 2007 estimates that 17 percent or 4 Million Philippine youths aged 13 to15 are current smokers.