Lawmakers urged to hike taxes on cigarettes

cigarettes tax A former health secretary urged lawmakers to raise taxes on cigarettes, saying that cigarettes in the Philippines remain very affordable to children and teenagers making it easy for them to acquire the habit.

According to former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez-Tan, the current cigarette tax rates in the Philippines represent only a meager 12 centavos per stick for the cheapest cigarette brand, which barely makes a dent in cigarette prices.

This, he said, explains why cigarettes in the Philippines are so cheap, and remain affordable for experimenting youth and the poor.

“If you really want people to stop smoking, the tobacco tax system needs to be improved immediately, to raise cigarette prices high enough to prevent or even stop children, youth and the poor from tobacco use,” said Galvez-Tan.

The former Health chief said that the low tax environment in the Philippines and the weak implementation of the law prohibiting cigarette sales to minors are among the reasons why at least one fourth of the youth are taking up smoking as a habit.

There are cases of children starting to smoke even before they turn 10 years old, according to the 2000 Global Youth Tobacco Survey.

Citing data from the World Health Organization, Tan said that while the number of smokers in developed nations is declining, the opposite is taking place in developing countries such as the Philippines.

He also criticized the merger of Philip Morris and Fortune Tobacco Corp., saying that the joint venture will hold at least 92 percent of the Philippine cigarette market.

In 2009 alone, Philip Morris Philippines reported over 85 billion cigarette sticks sold.

“With an increasing number of deaths due to smoking, this means that their customers should be decreasing. It’s simple logic for any business to boost sales to increase their profit. The tobacco industry is no different. More sales mean they have to recruit more smokers to replace the dead ones, and where else can we find these replacement smokers than our children and youth?” said Galvez-Tan of Health Justice, a non-profit organization created to bridge the gap between public health and law through policy development and research. The group is committed to be the leading resource in research and capacity building for priority public health policies.

Out of the top 10 causes of mortality as reported by the Department of Health, seven of them have tobacco use as a major risk factor, and these include diseases of the heart, nervous system, pulmonary system, and various cancers.


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