Health and youth advocates: Unitary tobacco tax system will have greatest impact on public health

Health and youth advocates oppose House Bill No. 4144, which seeks to amend the Republic Act No. 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Law by replacing the unitary with a two-tier tobacco tax system.

Under the proposed system, two different tax rates will be imposed depending on the classification the cigarettes will fall under. Premium brands will be taxed higher than the budget brands. The present law taxes P30 against all cigarette packs regardless of the price and brand with 4% increase starting 2018.

Those who oppose the bill fear it would dilute the objective of the sin tax law.

“Lower tax on tobacco which results in lower price, will encourage smokers shift to cheaper brands of cigarettes. It dilutes the public health objective to reduce tobacco consumption. It is the unitary tobacco tax system that will have the greatest impact on public health,” said Irene Reyes of public health think tank HealthJustice Philippines.

The Global Youth and Tobacco Survey (GYTS) 2005-2014, which was conducted by the World Health Organization and Department of Health, revealed that 13.7 per cent of students between 13 to 15 years old identified themselves as “current tobacco users.”

Ninian Sumadia, the Sectoral Representative of the National Anti-Poverty Commission Youth and Students Sector, is against the bill.

“It is the unitary tobacco tax system that can effect substantial change in the behavior of the youth, who are seen by the tobacco industry as nothing more than replacement smokers, or their potential sources of income in the many years to come. The bill is a testament to the greed of this industry that targets the youth, who, as long as there are affordable cigarettes within their reach, can anytime fall prey to the health risks of cigarette smoking., ” Sumadia said.

The WHO states in its website that “children and adolescents are also more sensitive to price increases than adults, allowing price interventions to have a significant impact on this age group.”

The Philippines remains the second largest consumer of tobacco products in the ASEAN region.

Article 6 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control urges all state parties, which include the Philippines, to implement it effectively.

“It must be clear to us what the primary goal of tobacco tax is— save more lives. 240 people die every day because of smoking-related diseases, and the only way to address it is to implement effective health measures, and only the unitary tobacco tax system, and not the two-tier tax system supported by the tobacco industry, can achieve that,” Reyes added.