• House junks unitary tax on cigarettes

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    The House of Representatives, in an overwhelming 176-33 vote, has junked a unitary tax rate for all cigarette brands.

    The Lower House approved House Bill 4144 which amends the Sin Tax law by providing a two-tier tax structure for cigarettes, wherein the tax rate for cigarettes priced below P11.50 per pack would be pegged at P32 per pack while those priced over P11.50 per pack will be slapped with a P36 tax rate per pack.

    These amounts are higher than the scheduled P30 unitary tax rate per pack under the existing Sin Tax law passed in 2012.

    Reps. Rav Rocamora of Siquijor and Pia Cayetano of Taguig-Pateros, two of the 30 who voted against the measure, lamented that the measure makes cheap cigarettes more accessible to the poor and children instead of discouraging smoking, one of the key objectives of the original sin tax law.

    Rocamora cited data that shows 87,600 Filipinos die each year due to smoking-related diseases.

    “This House Bill 4144 is not a health measure. This would just cause a downshifting where people will smoke cheaper cigarettes rather than curbing smoking. The potential of the poor to smoke became higher,” Rocamora said.

    “There is no reason for us to go back to a two-tier system because this only makes cigarettes cheaper for the youth. It’s as good as dangling a lollipop to a child. We should not make the sin products such as cigarettes accessible. House Bill 4144 is not correct and seeks to derail the Sin Tax law,” Cayetano, an author of the Sin Tax law, pointed out.

    If the aim of the House Bill 4144 is to raise government revenues and discourage the poor from smoking, Cayeteno stressed that it should have instead amended the unitary tax rate of P30 to P40 or as high as P100 per pack.

    Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong of Negros Oriental shared her colleagues’ sentiments.

    “This is House Bill 4144 is an anti-health bill. Even the Finance and Health department oppose this as it undermines the health gains of the existing Sin Tax law. We should give the unitary taxation scheme a chance first,” Limkaichong, the principal author of the Sin Tax law during the 15th Congress, said in closing.

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