Health advocates urged Davao Representative Isidro Ungab to look at the figures to see the weakened impact on public health due to amendments to the sin tax bill. Ungab says there would be no more meetings with stakeholders and told them to put their comments in writing instead.
The original House Bill 5257 changed cigarette excise tax structure from a four-tiered system to a single-tiered one. It also required taxes to reflect yearly changes in the price of goods. It was amended to provide two tiers for cigarettes and three for alcohol. and increased tax rates by 8% every two years. These changes substantially weaken public health efforts, health proponents say.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” says Ruben Carlo Asuncion, an economist who lost his father to a heart attack caused largely by smoking. “Having two tiers instead of one is problematic. There will be a 36% price gap between tiers. The obvious consequence will be smokers shifting to a cheaper brand and tobacco companies scrambling to reclassify their brands under the lower tier. When that happens, both health and revenue will lose,” he adds.
“An 8% increase every 2 years is not quite high enough,” says Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Project Director of the SEA Initiative on Tobacco Tax (SITT) of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). “The increases should also deter smokers from smoking, not just increase revenues. To do this, the law must be able to increase taxes above and beyond the inflation rate. Previous laws weren’t able to reduce tobacco consumption because they kept prices affordable and did not keep pace with inflation,” he continued.
“With the fixed 10-year period in the amendments, we are just replacing one evil with another,” says Roberto Pagdanganan, Chairman of Health Watch Philippines. “The 10-year period essentially creates a new freeze, which prevents the government from increasing tobacco tax for health purposes at any time it should see fit to reduce tobacco consumption.; let’s not bargain away our government’s power to effectively pursue tobacco control. Our country’s health depends on it,” he says.
“The tobacco industry knowingly creates products that kill their users,” says Dr. Daniel Tan, President of Health Justice Philippines. “Keeping tobacco taxes down as other countries increase theirs sends the message that we are beholden to the tobacco industry. It’s about time we taxed this lethal product appropriately. When we value lives lost more than revenue earned, that’s when we’ll be on the right track,” he said.