Congress Ways and Means Committee assures tobacco industry of 200k new smokers a year!

“We are disturbed and disappointed by the House of Representatives committee on ways and means approved rate on tobacco tax. The marginal rate increase will not only increase the number of smokers by 200,000 each year. It will likewise translate to 2,000 yearly deaths from purely tobacco-related ailments.”

This was the statement of health advocates, following the approval by the ways and means committee of an increase of ₱2.50 per pack effective July 2019 and ₱2.50 per pack each year until 2022. After which, the increment will be four percent each year.

The committee report that is expected to be deliberated by the plenary today or Monday next week will result in the tobacco tax rates of ₱37.50 in 2019, ₱40 in 2020, ₱42.50 in 2021, and ₱45 in 2022.

“The proposed increase is not even an improvement of the current tax rate. Its proposed implementation in July 2019 is just six months earlier than what is currently mandated under the TRAIN Law in which the tobacco tax will be raised to ₱37.50 by January 2020. Worse, the legislators passed a bill that will enable 200,000 people to start smoking and get addicted to this deadly product,” said Dr. Antonio Dans, a public health expert from the National Academy of Science and Technology and one of the convenors of the Sin Tax Coalition.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Leachon, independent member of the board of PhilHealth said the marginal increase will generate a small amount of revenue, which will be insufficient to finance the Universal Health Care (UHC) that Congress recently passed. “We are afraid that the UHC rollout will not happen next year because of lack of funding. This is politically unacceptable to the electorate whose expectations for improved health care have been heightened by the promise of expanded health coverage and increased health benefits,” he added.

The advocates reminded the legislators of the recent Pulse Asia Survey, showing two out of three Filipinos will support the real increase in the tobacco tax and will vote for candidates who favor the higher tobacco tax.

“Unfortunately the ways and means bill is but an illusion of an increase and can easily be exposed as a measure that favors big tobacco. I admire the courage of the legislators who said during the bill deliberation that they cannot, in their conscience, allow the tax increase because they have not seen the effects of the previous increase. How can they openly defend these companies who have brought poverty and sickness to the people?” Dans explained.

The Sin Tax Coalition appealed to the leadership of the House of Representatives to consider the proposals of Rep. Joey Salceda and Rep. Angelina Tan that are way above the approved rates. The health advocates said the committee report failed to fulfill the people's expected improvement in health care, expansion of outpatient benefits, employment of doctors and other health care personnel who will look after their families' health needs, and other reforms in the health system.

“We hope Sen. Sonny Angara will continue to hold hearings in the ways and means committee in the senate to hasten the passage of the tobacco tax increase proposals of Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Sen. JV Ejercito. The UHC needs sustainable funding that cannot be provided in the House ways and means committee proposal,” Leachon said.

House Bill 4575 by Rep. Joey Salceda proposed an increase of ₱45 pesos per pack on the first year, ₱5 pesos increment per year thereafter until 2022.

House Bill 6648 authored by Rep. Angelina Tan, which proposed to increase the excise tax to ₱60 per pack and similarly proposed in Senate Bill 1599 authored by Sen. Manny Pacquiao. Senate Bill 1605 written by Sen. JV Ejercito proposes to increase the cigarette excise tax to ₱90 per pack.