Health advocates urge gov't to increase tobacco tax

MANILA, Philippines – Health advocates have called on the government to increase the excise tax on tobacco.

They also urged the National Economic and Development Authority to remove cigarettes from the basket of basic goods to help deter individuals from smoking.

“It is not a basic need…. Cigarettes should not be a staple to begin with,” Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) executive director, said in a press briefing on Friday, September 7.

Dorotheo said smoking prevalence in the Philippines was still “relatively high” at 23% compared to other countries with success tobacco control initiatives.

He added that cigarettes should not be considered as a basic good because of the severe health risks it poses to users.

“It's like saying give them a few cigarettes and make them happy today but in the long term, it's actually worse for them,” Dorotheo said.

As a doctor who trained in the Philippine General Hospital, Dorotheo shared he would often treat indigent patientssuffering from lung cancer, emphysema, heart attack, or stroke at productive ages of 40 to 50 years old. (READ: Want to avoid a broken heart? Quit smoking, says DOH)

“If I could just prevent them from smoking, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. They would be more productive and they wouldn’t have to pay the costs of smoking, which currently our government is paying for,” he said.

Higher tobacco tax: SEATCA said higher tobacco taxes would lessen smokers among the youth and the poor, and would increase funds for the Department of Health's Universal Healthcare.

“There's enough room to tax. It will not kill the industry…. The government can prevent smoking in order to save money it would use to treat preventable diseases from smoking and use it for other social services,” Dorotheo said.

The DOH supports the proposal of Senators Manny Pacquiao and Joseph Victor Ejercito to increase cigarette taxes to about P60 to P90 per pack from the current P32.50. (READ: Cigarette prices to increase more with passage of universal health bill)

In an earlier press briefing, Ejercito said increases in tobacco taxes are expected to generate about P30 to P45 billion in revenues. (READ: Senate eyes passage of universal health care bill by October)

“If we do not implement [higher] tax at this time, by the time President Duterte steps down, we will actually have one million new smokers so our gain before will be completely lost if we don’t increase the tax,” Dorotheo said.

He added: “The end implication is the impact on health. Whenever the tobacco industry wins, public health will lose.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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