Former Department of Health (DoH) secretaries, along with physicians, health organizations and civil society groups, have united to support the inclusion of higher cigarette tax being pushed in the Senate to combat tobacco use and malnutrition.
In a news briefing on Tuesday, petitions were signed to urge senators and President Rodrigo Duterte to include cigarette tax in deliberations on the comprehensive tax reform package.
Present during the event were three former Health secretaries, namely Esperanza Cabral, Enrique Ona and Jaime Galvez-Tan.
In her presentation, Cabral said tobacco exposes smokers to about 45 life-threatening diseases such as stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease.
“In addition, tobacco predisposes [smokers]to a major health problem, illicit drug use. Of 4.5 million Filipinos who have ever tried drugs, 1.5 million used tobacco as the gateway,” she added.
“We strongly appeal the following amendments. We urge that taxes on tobacco be increased by 60 percent in 2018, and by 10 percent yearly thereafter with the following goals, to decrease the number of current smokers from 14.5 million to 13.5 million; to reduce annual financial losses of at least P210 billion from smoking-related diseases; to augment funds for universal health care, government infrastructure projects and crop diversification by tobacco farmers; and to institute tobacco control as a preventive measure against the use of illicit drugs,” Cabral said.
Ona said health should also be the priority of the Duterte administration along with infrastructure and the fight against criminality and drugs.
“Health should not be number two or three. If number one is infrastructure and criminality, so should health be,” he added.
Tan expressed surprise that tobacco and alcohol taxes were not included when the Tax Reform and Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) bill was proposed.
“We have not taxed tobacco and alcohol [at the same rate as other countries]if we compare ourselves to Hong Kong, Thailand, and even Singapore,” he said.
Tan noted that a stick of cigarette in other countries costs around P20, while the price in the Philippines is only P5.
Antonio Dans, a convener of the Sin Tax Coalition and professor at the University of the Philippines-College of Medicine, estimated that there will be a million more smokers in the country by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in 2022 if the delay in the adjustment of the tobacco tax prevails.
“That’s 200,000 new smokers for every year that we delay a tax adjustment on tobacco, and these new smokers will be composed of mostly rural residents [especially]the young and the poor,” he said.
Maricar Limpin, executive director of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines and Action on Smoking and Health Philippines, also noted that the proposed Train bill also includes taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB).
“We are supporting the tax on SSB because we believe that it will address the double burden of malnutrition,” Limpin said, referring to obesity and chronic undernutrition.
The signed petitions will be forwarded to the Philippine Medical Association before sending then to Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial.