The Philippine College of Physicians, New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), and other health advocates on Tuesday urged legislators to view Senate Bill 3249, otherwise known as the Sin Tax Bill, not only as a revenue bill, but more importantly as a health bill.
"It's time to take action and pass the true sin tax bill, and not a token sin tax bill in favor of our tobacco manufacturers," said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral. She is asking lawmakers to pass the bill in order to lower tobacco consumption in the country.
New Vois President Emerson Rojas shared the harmful effects of tobacco. Rojas was a heavy smoker who eventually suffered from Stage 4 laryngal cancer. He is now unable to talk, save for a device he is now using which is an electrolarynx.
"The Philippines has the cheapest prices of cigarettes in the Western Pacific Region," he lamented. Should the sin tax bill be passed, more adult smokers would be encouraged to quit smoking, and also discourage the start of young smokers.
"Let us be on guard against the watering down of SB3249," urged Rojas.
On the other hand, Department of Health Consultant on Non-Communicative Diseases Dr. Tony Leachon and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the Philippines representative Dr. Maricar Limpin are pushing for the passage of the sin tax bill so that the government would have more money to build better hospitals and provide premium health care for the poor.
"With the sin tax, there would be better revenue for health," noted Leachon.
DOH: Sin Tax is Pro-Poor
This thought is backed up by the DOH, which believes that the sin tax is not only anti-cancer, but pro-poor as well. "As the tobacco industry targets the poor in marketing their products, it will also be the poor who will benefit from the sin tax as money collected from the industry will be used to enroll millions of poor families into socialized healthcare and for the improvement of the whole healthcare service delivery," said Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa.
According to the 2012 survey of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the prevalence of smoking in the country is higher among the poorest of the poor with 40 percent belonging to the lowest quintile while 36 percent come from the second lowest quintile.
The figures are the opposite among the rich, where 25 percent of smokers are considered affluent.
"This means that of the 17.3 million adult smokers in the country, 76 percent of them are poor. This also reinforces previous studies that the poor spend more on cigarettes than on education and health," said Herbosa.
Citing results of the 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the health undersecretary said the country's poorest spend as much as 67 percent of their income on food and that two-thirds of them do not see a doctor or do not seek a health facility when they get sick.
Herbosa said as the poor are likely to be less informed of the harmful effects of smoking, they serve as a major market for the tobacco industry. They also suffer most from all diseases and economic burden attributed to smoking.
According to Prof. Tony Dans of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, half of the annual 300,000 deaths from non-communicable diseases in the country are attributed to smoking. A total of P188 billion is also being lost every year from the top four killers of Filipinos (lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, and stroke) which are all smoking-related.
"We have to turn the tide and make the tobacco industry pay for the health and economic burdens that smoking brings. By taxing tobacco we will be able to enroll a total of 10.9 million poor families into the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and increase catastrophic benefits from 10 percent to 30 percent of the total cost," said Herbosa.
The DOH also plans to use revenues from the sin tax to hire an additional 10,000 doctors, 50,000 nurses and midwives, and 100,000 community health teams to fill in gaps in health personnel.
In addition, a total of 2,243 rural health units, 403 district hospitals, and 37 DOH-retained hospitals will also be enhanced as a result of sin tax revenues while about 700,000 rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines will be purchased for poor infants.
"By taxing the tobacco industry we will not only improve our country's healthcare service delivery but we will also prevent diseases and premature deaths because of smoking," Herbosa explained.
The DOH estimates that around 170,000 deaths would be prevented during the first year of implementation of the sin tax. Meanwhile, around two million smokers are expected to quit from consuming tobacco by 2016 as a result of a higher tobacco levy.
"We will be able to save the lives of the poor and prevent our children from taking up smoking when we increase the tax for tobacco products. At the same time we will be able to improve our healthcare service delivery to cater to the poorest of our population," Herbosa said.