Encouraging people to smoke cheaper cigarettes is no advocacy at all – health group

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HealthJustice Philippines, a public health think tank with legal expertise in tobacco control and health promotion, reacted to the statement made recently by the counsel of Mighty Corporation that the manufacturer’s proposed amendments to the sin tax reform law will help smokers who consume cheaper tobacco products.

“Ang advocacy ng Mighty ay amyendahan ang sin tax law para matulungan […] yung mga nagsisigarilyo ng low quality o lower end na sigarilyo, as against doon sa premium brands,” said Philip Sigrid Fortun, legal counsel of Mighty Corporation in a telecast interview on DZMM/ABSCBN yesterday.

However, Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, Member of the Board of Trustees of HealthJustice, insisted otherwise. “We must dispel the false notion that cheap cigarettes are safer than expensive ones. All cigarettes are equally dangerous and harmful to health. They pose the same level of risk to smokers and those unfortunate enough to inhale secondhand smoke. This is the reason cigarettes must be taxed equally regardless of the price and brand,” he said.

Fortun put forward the idea that a rival tobacco manufacturing company may be creating the case of tax evasion against it. Mighty’s efforts to push for a two-tier tobacco tax system, if successful, will allegedly eat up a sizeable portion of said rival company’s market share.

“Dahil po dito sa kanilang effort na ito, na of course ay kakain ng market share noong mga competitor company, ito ang nangyari,” Fortun stated.

HealthJustice, a Bloomberg Awardee for Global Tobacco Control, opposes the two-tier tobacco tax system. “We are against the two-tier tobacco tax system because, as Mighty itself has also pointed out, this will only lead to downshifting. The tobacco tax is a health measure that should discourage people from smoking in the first place, and not simply make them switch brands. Encouraging people to smoke cheaper cigarettes is no advocacy at all,” Galvez Tan added.

House Bill No. 4144 sought to amend the Republic Act No. 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Law by replacing the unitary with a two-tier tobacco tax system. The bill was transmitted to the Senate a day after it was approved on the third and final reading.

HB 4144 aims to impose two different tax rates on tobacco products depending on the classification the cigarettes will fall under. Budget brands are taxed less than premium brands. The present sin tax reform law imposes P30 against all cigarette packs regardless of the price and brand, with 4% increase starting 2018.

Article 6 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the international health treaty to which Philippines is a signatory, mandates all parties to effectively implement a unitary tobacco tax system.

“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 World Health Organization has stated.

Mighty Corporation is currently under fire allegedly for using fake stamps on its cigarettes, the effect of which is the avoidance of tobacco taxes.

The Philippines is the second largest consumer of tobacco products in the ASEAN region. “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,” according to a statement released earlier by HealthJustice.