Health advocates to Recto – Substantial tax increase is a must

Press Release – Action for Economic Reforms – 23 June 2012

Health sectors are now responding to Ways and Means Chair Ralph Recto, welcoming the senator’s declaration to ensure the bill’s passage but expressing their concern over his statement that suggests a weak sin tax law.

“While this tax reform affects consumers, the bottom line is that we want healthy consumers,” said former DOH secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral. “We want a reform that effectively curbs alcohol consumption and a widespread smoking epidemic. We want legislators to consider the health of millions that is at risk if this bill is watered down.”

Health advocates urge Upper House lawmakers to support a bill that contains the essential reforms of high taxes, simple unitary tax, indexation to inflation and removal of the price classification freeze.

“Without these reforms, a sin tax law loses its power and relevance,” continued Cabral. “Statistics show that tobacco use is most prevalent among the youth and the poor. I’ve seen these people waste their health and resources on cigarettes. Smoking does not only affect a single individual, but also their friends, families and this country.”

“We all know that smoking kills or that it’s bad for our health. These warnings complement other means of tobacco control measures such as raising taxes on cigarettes.” stated Emer Rojas, president of the New Vois Association of the Philippines, a non-governmental organization composed mainly of cancer victims.

“We have some of the cheapest cigarettes in Asia because of the low taxes we have on cigarette products,” he added. “Low cigarette prices tend to make cigarettes affordable to vulnerable sectors like the young and the poor, paving way for them to start and sustain the habit.”

Rojas, who developed a heavy smoking habit in his teenage years, suffered laryngeal cancer in 2002. Today, he speaks with the help of an electronic larynx which replaces his lost vocal cords.

“240 Filipinos die from smoking every day,” he asserted. “People should not die a premature death. By significantly increasing cigarette prices, we are making it less affordable and thus save the lives of our fellow Filipinos.”

Former health secretary Dr. Alberto Romualdez maintained, “Higher taxation will increase revenues earmarked for health, as well as discourage the poor and the youth from picking up or sustaining the habit.”

“At the end of the day, this is first and foremost a health issue,” affirmed Romualdez. “Increasing cigarette costs is a deterrent; we are preventing addiction to smoking that eventually leads to more damaging health effects and shielding the poor from devastating financial costs.”

He insisted, “It is not about overburdening consumers, but rather saving millions of lives. By passing the sin tax bill, legislators will be passing reforms that will truly protect and promote the health of the Filipino people.”

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