Press Release—Action for Economic Reforms— 18 December 2013 

24 STICKS: according to a tobacco quick survey by the Department of Health – National Epidemiology Center (DOH-NEC), in partnership with Action for Economic Reforms (AER), this is the average number of cigarettes foregone by smokers in Cotabato City per week after the implementation of the Sin Tax Law.

“The DOH and AER are now assessing the health impact of the first year of the sin tax law by surveying cigarette consumers who have lessened their smoking activities since January,” said Jo-ann Latuja, senior economist of AER. “One trend that we have observed has been that higher tobacco taxes have deterred smoking, even as some downshifting to lower-priced cigarettes has occurred.”

The DOH survey of tobacco consumers was conducted among 309 tobacco users in Cotabato City in late November 2013. Among the smokers surveyed by the DOH and AER team, 131 respondents (42.4 percent) claimed they had lessened their cigarette consumption, while 130 persons (42.1 percent) attested to smoking the same amount of tobacco as in 2012. Interestingly, 41 respondents (13.3 percent) reportedly increased their tobacco consumption despite facing higher prices.

Yet in general, weekly cigarette consumption of Cotabato smokers dropped 24.4 sticks on the average, while 7 respondents (2.3 percent) reported that they quit smoking altogether.

The DOH quick survey in Cotabato City builds upon a continuing initiative of AER to gauge the impact of the Sin Tax Law on Filipino smokers. Since the first quarter of 2013, AER has been conducting interviews and focused group discussions with smokers from different sectors, in order to assess changes in their smoking consumption since the implementation of R.A. 10351.

Among the smokers interviewed by AER was Mark Barcenas, 18, from Fortune High School in Markina. Barcenas had quit smoking in mid-2013 due to price increases caused by the sin tax law.

“I stopped smoking because I needed to cut down on costs,” Barcenas shared in Filipino. “I only have a P30 allowance every day, and in a week, I was still spending up to P50, even when I have to spend for so many school projects, not to mention lunch. There are many people from my kabarkada who have also stopped smoking because of the sin tax”

“Barcenas’ response is just a sampling of the interviews and surveys of smokers that AER is now conducting with partners like DOH,” said Latuja. “Although it will take more time before exact figures on how many smokers nationwide are quitting will be available, our interviews provide a clear signal that higher cigarette prices are generally making smoking less viable among Filipinos.”

The quick survey and interview findings are not the only sign that the first wave of annual cigarette tax increases mandated by the sin tax law is slightly driving down smoking in the Philippines. In a market survey conducted by Nielsen in the first half of 2012, smoking prevalence in the country allegedly decreased from 52 to 46 percent with the implementation of the sin tax law.

“What the evidence shows is that the sin tax law has brought about clear health gains for Filipinos in 2013, by making it more challenging for Filipino smokers to keep up their levels of tobacco use,” Latuja added. “Even while the full benefits of the law are yet to be felt, we can already say that the law is beginning to save lives by causing Filipinos to quit and reduce tobacco smoking despite its highly addictive nature.”

“Given that further tax increases that will come about annually until 2017, we can expect that even more Filipino smokers’ lives will be saved in the years to come,” she said.