Manila, Philippines – With the recent passage of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, a public health group is reiterating their call on Senators to immediately act on health-related measures that are pending in Congress.
HealthJustice President Mary Ann Mendoza said that the Senate, once it resumes session after the elections in May, must prioritize increasing the excise tax on tobacco products up to Php90 per pack.
She further explained that increasing tobacco taxes remain the most effective way to discourage the youth from smoking.
“We are grateful that we already have pro-health legislators in the 17th Congress but we need to elect more. Our group remains optimistic that the Senate will pass a pro-health tobacco tax bill as soon as that resume session after the May 13 elections. There are many new health Laws, like the UHC Act, that need to be funded.” Mendoza said.
Tobacco taxation and smoke-free public places are popular issues
Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCP) Advocacy Manager Au Quilala said measures to limit smoking are popular among Filipinos.
Quilala cited the January 2019 Ulat Ng Bayan National Survey by Pulse Asia that revealed 9 out of 10 Filipino adults are in favor of prohibiting smoking or the use of cigarettes in public places.
Another Pulse Asia survey in November 2018 showed that 54% of Filipinos would support candidates who will push for increasing tobacco taxes.
Cigarette smuggling is a law enforcement issue
For his part, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Executive Director Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo said that industry arguments that raising taxes on tobacco products will worsen cigarette smuggling are not supported by real-world evidence.
“Countries with high cigarette taxes, such as the UK and Australia, have low levels of smuggling, while some countries with low taxes have high levels of smuggling. Smuggling control is an issue of law enforcement, not of tax policy. According to the recent World Bank study entitled Controlling Tobacco Illicit Trade: A Global Review of Country Experience, addressing illicit trade and raising tobacco taxes are mutually reinforcing actions. Governments should raise taxes while also taking action against illicit trade,” said Dorotheo.
“Legislators should remember that raising tobacco taxes is about health and saving lives, because tobacco kills at least 17 Filipinos every hour. Smuggling will occur regardless of how high or low taxes are, especially when there is corruption and poor law enforcement. Let us also not be blind to the fact that tobacco companies have been caught and convicted for facilitating and engaging in illicit trade,” Dorotheo added. ##
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