The Bureau of Internal Revenue issued a statement that it is now in the process of finalizing Terms of Reference governing eligibility of groups to propose product security technology for tobacco products. Even at this early stage, congratulations have been pouring in from members of the health community. These come days after BIR Commissioner Kim Henares said that cigarette companies will be excluded from the public bidding.
Republic Act 8240 requires the government to incorporate revenue stamps on the design of the cigarette packs themselves. Said stamps are intended to be an added measure against cigarette smuggling, thus increasing revenue from these sin products. The permanent stamps are set to replace the present system using easily detachable stickers on packs. The law took effect in 1997 but the government has yet to find a suitable service provider for the project.
“Cigarette smuggling, be it of genuine or counterfeit brands ultimately results in cheaper cigarettes, making them more accessible than they already are to the youth and the poor,” said Irene Reyes, Managing Director of Health Justice. “We commend the BIR for taking a step in the right direction. Excluding cigarette companies from the public bidding is a win for public health which is the ultimate public profit,” she added.
In disqualifying cigarette companies from joining the public bidding, Henares cited the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which the Philippines has been a Party since 2005. The treaty provides that with respect to tobacco control, Parties must protect the policies from the tobacco industry’s commercial and other interests.
“BIR is blazing the trail in upholding the provisions of the FCTC,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Project Director of SEATCA’s tobacco tax initiative. “The conflict of interest is very real. If cigarette companies or the front groups that represent their interests are allowed to manufacture the security stamps, who is going to keep them in check? We’re glad that BIR has decided the matter for them,” he added.
“This move will not just ensure that the right amount of taxes are collected. More importantly, it will save us a lot in healthcare costs as well,” said says Roberto Pagdanganan, Chairman of Health Watch Philippines.
The groups are confident that the appropriate decision will be made as regards the public bidding. “The decision to exclude the tobacco industry and to honor the FCTC is a clear sign of progress for the Philippines,” said Reyes.