Press Release— Action for Economic Reforms
15 February 2012
If new sin taxes are not passed within 2012, the Philippines will soon suffer a severe health crisis, advocates from the medical profession and civil society warnedyesterday.
Non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) such as cancer and heart disease have already reached dire levels in the Philippines, claimed Dr. Antonio Dans and Dr. Antony Leachon from the medical sector.
“More than 200,000 Filipinos die annually from NCD’s. This is larger than any epidemic we have ever seen in the country,” said Dr. Dans, a clinical epidemiologist of the UP College of Medicine.
Contrary to popular belief, the young and the poor will be the worst afflicted by this “silent” crisis. In the past three years, smoking among the youth has escalated by an alarming 40%. In 2009, the lowest 30% of the population spent more than double the amount of the higher 70% on tobacco.
Cigarette smoking and tobacco use were pinpointed by the medical experts to be the single largest factor contributing to NCD’s in countries like the Philippines.
“We need to save the young and poor,” stressed Dr. Leachon, DOH consultant on NCD’s. “Right now, they are the backbone of the nation, its workforce. A sick workforce means a sick nation.”
To stem the rising tide of NCD’s, the advocates pin their hopes on the restructuring of present sin tax laws. “The most effective way to keep the young and the poor from smoking is through increasing the price of cigarettes,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP).
“For this, our lawmakers must reform our tobacco tax system at the soonest possible time,” added FCAP’s executive director. “The president, in fact, has already endorsed this as an urgent measure.”
The Philippines’ last sin tax regime was signed into law in 2004, yet was riven by fatal flaws. According to the pro-reform groups, these flaws have ushered a grim reduction in government revenues, while even increasing the nation’s overall level of cigarette consumption by 2011.
Jo-ann Latuja of the Action for Economic Reforms indicated that future sin taxes would have to incorporate key changes to halt the chilling upsurge of NCD’s— abolishing the 1996 freeze on price brackets, imposing a unitary tax scheme, and adjusting tax rates to future increases in inflation.
“Combined with a high enough raise in tax rates, these reforms will save at least 300,000 lives,” Latuja said, “They will also help fund the government’s pro-poor Universal Health Care program and offer alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers.”
The health advocates affirmed their support for the Sin Tax bill filed by Rep. Emilio Abaya of the Liberal Party, and sponsored by Malacañang. It is this version of the measure, they maintain, that will protect the country’s young and the poor, and avert the perils of a national health catastrophe.
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