Health and anti-tobacco groups commend Duterte’s line veto of tobacco tax earmarking

Public health think tank HealthJustice Philippines and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) expressed dismay over the approval of the very low tobacco tax increase in the TRAIN, but nonetheless commend President Duterte’s veto of the unconstitutional allotment of the incremental revenues of the tobacco taxes, the use for which has already been provided for in the Republic Act 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Law.

Last December 22, President Duterte vetoed five items, including the earmarking of incremental revenues from tobacco tax, in the TRAIN bill. “It effectively amends the Sin Tax Law or Republic Act No. 10351, which provides for guaranteed funds for universal health care. The provision will effectively diminish the share of the health sector in the proposed allocation,” he explained.

“We commend the President with his decision to veto the earmarking of incremental revenues generated by tobacco taxes. As stated by him, the use for the revenues has already been provided for by law,” said Mary Ann Fernandez Mendoza, President of HealthJustice, and Ms. Sopaphan Ratanachena, Tobacco Tax Program Manager of SEATCA.

“The tobacco tax is primarily a health measure, and to redirect revenues collected from tobacco tax is to detract from its nature as such. This is consistent with the agenda of the President to achieve universal health care coverage. We thus urge the President to ensure proper disposition of these earmarked budget for health-related purposes,” Fernandez Mendoza and Ratanachena emphasized.

However, both said that the low tobacco tax rate approved by the President will contribute in the tobacco prevalence in the Philippines.

“We should be building on instead of diminishing the gains of the Sin Tax Reform Law. Allowing the imposition of the miniscule additional tobacco tax is a huge step backwards from achieving the goals of the tobacco tax measure— to significantly reduce tobacco consumption and generate more resources for expanded universal health care in the medium to long term,” Fernandez and Ratanachena said.

10 people die every hour in the Philippines due to smoking-related diseases. Every year of delay in increasing tobacco taxes to at least 60 pesos per pack has been estimated by health and economic experts to result in 200,000 more smokers, who will be at high risk of smoking-caused diseases, disabilities, and early death.

HealthJustice is a Bloomberg Awardee for Global Tobacco Control. It is part of the NCD Alliance, a network of organizations, experts, and advocates working to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases worldwide.

SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.Photo by Abode of Chaos