Economist doubts bill could reduce smokers

Increasing taxes on cigarette will not totally make the Philippines a smoke-free country.

This was the pronouncement of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Philippines executive director Dr. Maria Encarnita B. Limpin on the bill seeking cigarette tax increase filed by Senator Manny Pacquiao which aims to fund the Universal Health Care Law. According to Limpin, the UHC Law passed last November is of big help especially to those who cannot afford to have a regular medical care.

On the other hand, she said that it is “quite impossible” for the Pacquiao bill to greatly reduce the number of smokers in the country.

“We all wanted that there will be zero smokers here in the Philippines. But it is hard to do, because we have to realize that we have so many smokers here in our country,” she said.

In a Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey conducted in 2009 by the Department of Health (DOH), 28 percent or 17.3 million Filipino adults age 15 years and older are tobacco smokers. The figures could increase given that the survey was made 10 years ago.

Moreover, 74,000 cases of ischemic heart diseases or the “hardening of arteries” continue to be the leading cause of death in the Philippines in 2016.

In a previous report, the Republic Act 10351 or the Sin Tax Law, signed by former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III designed to increase the prices of cigarettes and liquors, failed to lower the tobacco production in the country.

The National Tobacco Administration (NTA) recorded an increase of more than 5,000 metric tons were recorded from 2013-2017, years after the sin tax law was signed, with an average of 39,544.37 metric tons, as compared to average of 34,616 metric tons of unmanufactured tobacco products were exported from 2008-2012.

Limpin said habitual smoking, considered an addiction, is hard to be eliminated considering the demand continues to rise.

The advocate also said that totally banning cigarette production, importation and exportation in the country would also be hard, considering the government would need it to fund the UHC Law.

The new excise tax on cigarettes and alcohol will fill in the P68-billion gap in the first year implementation of the UHC law worth more than P257 billion. 

“Banning production all out without doing anything, without reducing the demand, will not be an effective intervention,” Limpin said.

“We have to wait that there will be a reduction of significant number of smokers, then that’s the time we could do something with the supply,” she said.