Press Release— Action for Economic Reforms— 9 June 2012

On the heels of the historic plenary passage of the Abaya sin tax bill, past and present health secretaries are now urging legislators in the Upper House— particularly Ways and Means Chair Ralph Recto and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile— to consider the dire public health risks if sin tax reforms are not legislated in 2012.

“It is imperative that a sin tax bill that contains the essential reforms of high taxes, simplified tax structure, indexation of tax rates to inflation, and removal of price classification freeze is signed into law,” said Dr. Esperanza Cabral. “These reforms are an absolute must for curbing a widespread smoking epidemic, the main reason for which is our country’s having one of the lowest cigarettes taxes in Asia.”

According to the Philippines’ latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey back in 2009, 17.3 million Filipinos were current tobacco smokers, translating into 240 daily deaths from smoking-related diseases. As the average Filipino family comprises five household members, as much as 1200 people stand to lose a loved one to smoking, on average, every single day.

Based on estimates of policy think-tank Action for Economic Reforms, a staggering total of 43.25 million lives could eventually be affected by the current tobacco-induced health crisis. If left unchecked, these numbers could possibly escalate even further.

“As a former secretary of health, I have seen the poor and the young waste their health and resources on cigarettes,” Cabral said. “This not only affects them, but also their families and our country. We know that the numbers have alarmingly soared over the past decade. This is a historic opportunity for change.”

“The health of the Filipino people must be among the top priorities of Upper House legislators,” asserted former DOH secretary Dr. Alberto Romualdez. “The high taxation on cigarettes will subsequently increase revenues earmarked for health and discourage vulnerable sectors such as the youth and the poor from picking up or continuing the habit.”

“Addiction to smoking usually occurs when an individual starts the habit at a young age, making the negative health effects eventually more damaging for them,” Romualdez added. “This habit also forces the poor to spend enormous sums far beyond their meager incomes for their treatment and rehabilitation. We simply cannot let this devastation continue.”

Statistics from the same GATS survey show that tobacco use is most prevalent among men and women from the poorest quintile, and highest among those with elementary or no formal education.

More distressingly, over 53.9% of daily smokers initiated daily smoking before the age of 18. In 2007 alone, 22.7% of students from the ages of 13 to 15 were reported to be smokers— a 40% increase from 2003.

“It is often wrongly assumed that these reforms will contribute to the demise of the tobacco industry,” stated current health secretary Dr. Enrique Ona. “In reality, a significant amount of funds will go to farmers that will not only aid in poverty reduction, but also improve their livelihoods.”

Stressed Ona: “The facts are all there. Clearly, the issue here is not that we are going to kill the industry but rather, we are providing all sectors – especially the young and the poor – with better health care.”

“The Senate has the golden opportunity of turning these alarming figures around,” said Sec. Ona. “I am confident that the Senate, led by Senate President Enrile and the chair of the ways and means committee Sen. Ralph Recto, can build upon the gains of the sin tax bill approved in the Lower House, by passing reforms that will truly protect and promote the health of millions of Filipinos.”