Physicians, policymakers, and health advocates wasted no time in expressing dismay over the paper-thin tobacco tax increase incorporated in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Bill, which the bicameral conference committee approved last December 11.
The bill seeks to impose a mere P2.50 increase in tobacco tax rate every year starting 2018 until 2023. From 2023 onwards, a four per cent increase in tobacco tax will be implemented.
The proposal is a far cry from what health experts and advocates have been pushing for— to increase tobacco tax by at least P60 per pack by 2018, and by at least nine per cent every year thereafter, in order to prevent 200,000 more Filipinos from becoming smokers.
HealthJustice Philippines, a think tank and advocacy group with legal expertise in tobacco control and health promotion, called on President Duterte to exercise his veto power should this version of the bill succeed in attaining ratification in the legislative chambers.
“The incredibly low tobacco tax in TRAIN came as an unpleasant surprise. Clearly a handiwork of the tobacco industry, it appears to have been inserted at the last minute to forestall the efforts of advocates to push for a significantly higher tax rate, one that will truly be effective in discouraging tobacco consumption among the youth and low income families,” said Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, Board Member of HealthJustice, and former Health Secretary.
The group believes it is now incumbent upon Duterte to vigorously oppose the proposed tobacco tax rate.
“We call on President Duterte to line veto the incredibly low tobacco tax increase inserted at the last minute in the TRAIN 1 Bill. Mr. President, this will not save lives as tobacco products will remain affordable to our youth and low income families. If we allow this, debilitating diseases such as lung and throat cancers will continue to rise. We implore your better judgment and not allow this travesty to happen. The commercial and vested interests of tobacco industry should not be permitted to sabotage the lives and health of the Filipino people,” Galvez-Tan emphasized.
The group earlier pointed out that the four per cent yearly increase in tobacco tax rate under the Sin Tax Reform Law of 2012 or RA 10351 is not enough because of inflation.
The purpose of tobacco tax is to discourage smoking. It has been found to be effective especially in the price-sensitive segments of the population, such as the youth and the low income earners. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, described the measure as “one of the most effective – and cost-effective – ways to reduce consumption of products that kill, while also generating substantial revenue.”
Addressing the President, Galvez-Tan added, “As former Mayor of Davao City, you were known for strictly implementing a smoking ban to protect the health of his constituents. You also openly condemned the dirty acts of the tobacco manufacturers, including their numerous attempts to bribe policymakers and law enforcers with huge sums of money and extravagant gifts. We hope that this time, as President, you will demonstrate the same zeal in protecting the lives and health of the Filipino people by exercising your veto power to strike down the very low, ineffective and industry-sponsored tobacco tax rate in the TRAIN.”
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