MANILA, Philippines – A recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) shows that the country’s low cigarette prices is a huge factor in getting children to start smoking at an early age. The survey, which gathered data for the period of August this year, further showed that the average age of initiation to smoking is as early as 15 years old. This is despite the fact that there is a prohibition of selling of cigarettes to minors.
“Survey after survey proves that the rise of smoking among our youth is already a national health emergency and that students are able to afford cigarettes with their small allowance. This is simply because cigarettes are very affordable and it sells for as low as P1.00 a stick,” said Atty. Irene Reyes, managing director of public health think tank HealthJustice.
Prevalence of smoking among high school students of ages 13-15 is a high 27%, according to data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2007.
“It is up to our senators and our congressmen to put in place a sin tax reform that will not only rake in more revenues but, more importantly, one that will ensure that our children will never be able to afford a stick of cigarette. The low cigarette prices are obviously luring our children into the addiction even before they grow old enough to understand the real damage that tobacco can do to their bodies or before they realize that it’s a product they should have stayed away from in the first place,” added Reyes.
Nicotine is highly addictive, with several research showing that it is even more addictive than cocaine and heroin.
The survey also revealed a sensitivity to price increase among respondents. Asked when they would quit, the young smokers responded that they would quit if the price per stick is P10.
“These findings support our call for a strong and effective tobacco tax system. We have a shot at correcting the flawed policy and we must do it right this time,” said Reyes.
According to HealthJustice, the following modifications are essential to achieve a new sin tax policy that is truly pro-health: the removal of the price classification freeze, a shift to a single-tier tax structure, a high tax rate, indexation of tobacco tax to inflation, regular increases to ensure low affordability among children, and earmarking of funds for health promotion.