DOH pushes for P90 per pack tobacco tax hike

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) is pushing for a PHP90 per pack increase in tobacco excise tax for better health of more Filipinos through the Universal Health Care (UHC) bill.

In a press briefing Monday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the UHC bill has passed the third reading in the upper and lower houses on Oct. 10 but there is still a need to increase its funding by imposing higher taxes on sin products like tobacco.

“Estimates show that the first year of implementation of the UHC bill, around PHP257 billion will be needed to introduce the reforms. Considering the existing budget, the funding gap is estimated to be around PHP164.04 billion, and to lessen these funding gaps increase in tobacco taxes are seen important,” he added.

Based on DOH’s latest estimates, tobacco taxes pegged at PHP90 per pack could avert one million tobacco attributable deaths. It could also reduce smoking prevalence from 21.6 percent of the population to a target of 15.7 percent.

“A recent Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan survey last September reveals a 67 percent public approval for increased tobacco taxes among its respondents, this means two out of three Filipinos agree that cigarette taxes should be increased,” he said.

Duque added that the same survey, 64 percent of the respondents will vote for electoral candidates who will endorse higher taxes on tobacco products. The survey also showed that only 5 percent of the respondents disapprove of DOH’s performance and 16 percent are undecided.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization Country Representative Gundo Weiler said UHC is a very wise investment that will generate huge returns because health is an issue that involves the population.

“We would be able to save lives and at the same time there will be economic returns. We officially support DOH push for this investment to increase tobacco taxes, it’s a win-win both for health and economy. In the Philippines, we have seen decrease in smokers but there are still premature deaths among adults due to smoking,” said Weiler, who attended the briefing.

Weiler said the increase in tobacco tax is a pro-poor measure because poor segments of the population respond better to increase in prices.

This move will push the marginalized to stop smoking, he added. Ma. Teresa Montemayor/