Smoking and drinking—guilty as chargedBy Rafael Castillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With bated breath, everyone awaits the final outcome of House Bill 5727, otherwise known as the “Sin Tax Bill.” Its amended version was approved at the committee level with an overwhelming 46-14 vote last May 9, and the battlefront has shifted to the House floor where it’s set for plenary discussion. Most likely, the plenary voting will already take place in the House by next week.
The merits of the bill have already been emphasized. Aside from its main objective of keeping our youth away from smoking and drinking alcohol, it is expected to generate much-needed additional revenues for the government which will be used for its banner health project (universal healthcare or kalusugang pangkalahatan) and other social development programs for Filipinos.
Educating the public
Among the more dedicated advocates actively championing sin tax reforms in the country since the ’90s is the Action for Economic Reforms (AER). It has been educating the public and key stakeholders on the importance of advancing sin tax reforms.
Jerik Cruz, AER media officer, explains that the Abaya bill is a win-win solution for all, but three main sectors will benefit most from this bill. They are the youth, the poor and the farmers.
For the youth, higher prices will make cigarettes less accessible to them and be a strong deterrent for them to start the addictive habit. Many of the youth smokers will also likely quit since they are less addicted to cigarettes than the older age groups. The 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey has shown that about 27.3 percent of schoolchildren aged 13 to 15 years are already smokers, increasing by 40 percent in a span of four years since 2003. This is partly because cigarettes have become cheaper in real terms, that even schoolchildren could afford to buy a few sticks from their allowance. Instead of spending their allowance for food and school supplies, they buy cigarettes.
For the poor, the higher cost of cigarettes will help prevent them from starting the addictive habit and save them from the high economic and health burden of tobacco-related diseases—something which is beyond their financial means to afford. Of the current smokers who are poor, many will likely quit since they are more price-sensitive than the richer smokers of society. The poor will also be the primary beneficiaries of the kalusugang pangkalahatan program.
The AER manifesto states: “The reforms will protect the poor who suffer the brunt of smoking-related diseases. The majority of the 300,000 Filipinos who die every year from these sicknesses like cancer come from the poor. Four out of 10 of the poorest 20 percent of Filipino adults are current smokers, compared to one of four of the richest 20 percent who smoke regularly.”
More painfully ironic
Nothing can be more painfully ironic than the findings of the 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey which showed that the poorest households spend a greater share of their income on tobacco than the rich households.
The tobacco farmers also need not worry because the bill framers had them in mind. A portion of the incremental revenues (15 percent) will be allocated to assist the farmers into shifting to more lucrative alternative livelihoods. They will also be beneficiaries to the improved health and other social services which the additional revenues from the increased taxes levied on cigarettes and alcohol drinks would be able to provide the government. Economically, “leveling the playing field will erode the power to dictate the price for the tobacco farmers’ produce and will mean better prices for them,” says the AER manifesto.
I think the Abaya bill has crossed the Rubicon. There’s no turning back. The die has been cast long ago and the winner takes all the marbles, says Dr. Tony Leachon, consultant for noncommunicable diseases of the Department of Health. With P-Noy’s endorsement of the bill, it’s likely going to be passed in the plenary voting, but supporters of the bill are not letting their guards down.
Although it has achieved some beach head, the sin tax bill still faces vicious resistance. And just like in the recent impeachment trial of the Chief Justice, anything can happen in the “last two minutes.” Hopefully, it gets the number of votes it needs when the voting comes, which is one way of declaring smoking and excessive drinking— “guilty as charged.”
Short URL: http://business.inquirer.net/?p=62745