Pros, antis unite in opposing tobacco tax bill

MANILA — Pro and anti tobacco advocates agreed in opposing House Bill No. 4144, which seeks to amend 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 PHP30 against all cigarette packs regardless of the price and brand with 4 percent increase starting 2018.

“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.

On the other hand, those who oppose the bill fear it would dilute the objective of the sin tax law.

“Why are they (lawmakers) proposing to hit tobacco again, even before another big 20 percent excise tax increase in January next year, and we don’t even know what the impact of that will be,” said Saturnino Distor, head of the PhilTobacco Growers Association (PTGA).

“Tobacco farmers are struggling with falls in demand for tobacco because of the huge 340-percent excise tax increases introduced in 2013, with annual compound increases of 20 percent or more ever since worsening the situation. Why is only tobacco being targeted and not other excisable goods? Tobacco excise taxes contributed around PHP100 billion in 2015, up from PHP32 billion in 2012, and are now more than 2/3 of the Sin Tax take. We are giving more than our fair share of the contribution,” he stressed.

PTGA and the Philippine Aromatic Tobacco Development Association representing 50,000 tobacco farmers across the Philippines, said House Bill 4144, authored by ABS Party-list Rep. Eugene Michael B. de Vera, plans to introduce a big increase in tobacco Sin Tax.

The proposal would introduce two new increased tax tiers, one at PHP32 per pack, and the other at PHP36 per pack. Also included is an annual increase of 5 percent on these rates.

The current Sin Tax on tobacco (R.A.10351) sees a unitary rate of PHP30 per pack in 2017.

“This bill is being rammed through Congress and we have never been asked for our opinion. The whole process is a sham and we call on the leadership of the House to seek proper consultation and a complete impact assessment before proceeding with it,” said Distor.

Meanwhile, Ninian Sumadia, the Sectoral Representative of the National Anti-Poverty Commission Youth and Students Sector, also opposed to the proposed measure.

“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 World Health Organization (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 WHO 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. (Some) 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,” said Reyes. Lilybeth Ison/