Senate Bill 2233 must be adopted without delay

Manila/Bangkok, 4 June 2019: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) welcomes the approval of Senate Bill 2233 to further increase tobacco taxes to reduce tobacco use, save lives, and raise much needed revenues to fund the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.

The bill, approved on third and final reading, increases excise taxes on cigarettes to Php 45 per pack by 2020 followed by Php 5 increases per year until the rate reaches Php 60 per pack by 2023 (Php 50 per pack by 2021, Php 55 per pack by 2022, and Php 60 per pack by 2023) from a current rate of Php 35 per pack.

“The higher tax rates proposed by Senators Manny Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian, or JV Ejercito would have been preferable, but the rates in SB 2233 are still a welcome development for the health of all Filipinos. President Durterte’s certifying the bill as urgent is also a strong signal to the Philippine Congress to adopt the bill without delay,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

A high tax on tobacco is a low-cost but highly effective win-win intervention recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) because it discourages smoking and prevents tobacco-caused diseases, while also bringing in revenues that can finance health care benefits for all, thereby saving lives and money. The Philippines’ 2012 Sin Tax Reform Law is often cited as a shining example of international best practice, having significantly reduced tobacco use, especially among the youth and the poor, while generating much needed revenues, with a major part being earmarked for universal health coverage of poor families.

“Health and economic experts, including the Department of Finance (DOF) and Department of Health (DOH), agree that public health gains are being eroded by inflation and improvements in household income. The new tax increases are needed to sustain the gains of the past tax reforms,” added Dorotheo.

Tobacco use remains the world’s leading avoidable cause of premature death. In the Philippines, more than 117,000 people succumb annually to tobacco-related diseases, while tobacco use burdens the national economy with Php 210 billion in health care costs and lost productivity annually. More than 16 million Filipino adults still smoke, and among Filipino youth, 20.5 percent of boys and 9.1 percent of girls currently smoke.

Regularly raising tobacco taxes sufficiently high to make tobacco products less affordable over time is one of the most potent and cost-effective measures to reduce tobacco use and save lives that 181 Parties including the Philippines have committed to under the global tobacco control treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA

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SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.