Civil society groups call for significant tobacco tax increases to discourage youth from smoking

Groups representing different sectors are calling for the increase of tobacco tax by P1 per stick or P20 per pack every year starting 2018 to markedly curtail smoking prevalence among the youth.

“The tobacco tax is primarily a health measure. Increasing the tobacco tax is recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the most effective ways of preventing the youth from starting to smoke. However, tobacco tax in the Philippines remains to be one of the lowest in the world. It should be increased significantly in order for it to have the most substantial impact on the health of our youth” the groups stated.

The sin tax reform law passed in 2012 introduced higher excise rates for tobacco products and paved the way for a unitary rate system by year 2017. It indexed the tax rate to inflation by increasing it annually by 4% regardless of the price and brand of cigarettes.

House Bill 4144, which sought to amend the sin tax reform law by replacing the unitary with a two-tier tobacco tax system, was filed last October 19. Under the proposed change, two different tax rates will be imposed depending on which classification the cigarettes fall under. Premium brands will be taxed higher than the budget brands.

Civil society groups opposing the bill pointed out that it will dilute public health objective of the tobacco tax by encouraging smokers to shift to cheaper brand of cigarettes rather than quit smoking altogether or reduce tobacco consumption.

HB 4144 has been forwarded to the Senate, which is expected to tackle it early this year.

The latest Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted among students aged 13-15 in the Philippines revealed that 13.7% of them are current users of tobacco products and that 8.9% of them are smokers. 27.5% of the students have already smoked cigarettes. Among those who have tried smoking, 36.0% are boys and 20.0% are girls.

“In-school youth usually have just a limited amount of daily allowance, which they will unlikely spend on things they can live without, like cigarettes. Higher tobacco tax will discourage them from giving up a significant chunk of their limited resources on cigarettes alone,” said Dexter Galban of One for Nursing Empowerment, a group of young nurses & nursing students in the Philippines.

“Internal documents of tobacco companies have long ago disclosed that to the tobacco industry, the youth are no more than what they call ‘replacement smokers.’ The youth have been effectively reduced to mere sources of income, their health and well-being utterly disregarded and thoughtlessly brushed aside. We should not allow these businesses to succeed in their agenda. The health and lives of the youth are more valuable than any amount of wealth that the tobacco industry can gain,” said Ninian Sumadia of the Youth and Student Sectoral Council of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

“Children and adolescents are also more sensitive to price increases than adults, allowing price interventions to have a significant impact on this age group, according to WHO.

“The goal of tobacco tax, being primarily a health measure, is to save lives. And it can save many lives if it is high enough to effect a change in behaviour in such a way as to discourage smoking. Tobacco tax in the Philippines should be like that. It should protect the health of our youth and keep them away from cigarettes,” said the groups.

240 people die every day in the Philippines due to smoking-related diseases.

HealthJustice Philippines, National Anti-Poverty Commission’s Youth and Student Sectoral Council, Philippine Cancer Society, Center for Empowerment and Development of the Elderly and Seniors (CEDES), National Anti-Poverty Commission’s Senior Citizen’s Sectoral Council, EcoWaste Coalition, ANG NARS, New Vois Association of the Philippines, and ONE for Nursing Empowerment are pushing for a tobacco tax increase of P1 per stick or P20 per pack every year starting 2018 to significantly lessen smoking among the youth.

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