Filipinos win major battle in fight vs big Tobacco, but war is far from over
Bangkok-16 October 2012: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), a regional tobacco control network, on Tuesday congratulated the people of the Philippines for "not backing down in a major battle against tobacco use", even as it stressed that "the war is far from over."
The Bangkok-based SEATCA noted how an aggressive civil society campaign caused a Philippine senator yesterday to resign his powerful position as chairman of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee, and to acknowledge the Filipino public's displeasure with how the senator watered down a crucial Sin Tax Bill currently pending in the Philippine Congress.
"While the fight for a meaningful Sin Tax Bill is far from over, Filipinos have successfully sent a powerful message to their policymakers: The people of the Philippines deserve - and will not settle for anything less than - a law that will truly protect public health," SEATCA Initiative on Tobacco Tax project director, Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, said.
Senator Recto resigned his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship after public health advocates raised a howl over a committee version of the Sin Tax bill reported out by Recto; the advocates said the Recto version of the bill "watered down" the original Sin Tax bill. Former Philippine senator and health secretary Juan Flavier said the Recto version of the bill would essentially "preserve the status quo" in Philippine tobacco use.
"We fully support the public health advocates, and urge them to be vigilant and steadfast, so as to move forward with the fight," SEATCA Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said. "It is not an easy task to develop and put in place strong tobacco control legislation, but keeping in mind that it is for the greater good of your countrymen, then efforts to raise tobacco taxes and prices will not be in vain."
Meanwhile, HealthJustice Project Manager, Atty. Evita Ricafort, in a statement affirms, "We consider Recto's resignation a sign of progress -- the deafening cry of civil society for a tax reform that will serve its purpose to save lives is being heard. We want the government to know that we will continue to guard the fort with them and ensure that public health policies are free from the influence of the tobacco industry. After all, the interests of the government in protecting its people can never be reconciled with the interests of the tobacco industry to rake in profit."
SEATCA noted that "aggressive campaigns of the rich and powerful tobacco industry to misinform and spread lies has happened in other ASEAN countries, but countries fought hard and were successful, because their governments were ultimately compelled to put public interest first over self and the tobacco industry. We are deeply concerned about events in the Philippines and how the tobacco industries blatantly try to meddle in government legislative processes, with the attempts to water down tax laws."
SEATCA noted how:
- In Thailand, the cabinet recently approved an increase in cigarette tax on the volume side (tax per cigarette, or its weight in grammes) from 85 per cent to 87 per cent. The maximum excise tax allowed is 90 per cent. Their Excise Department said the higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol will increase department's revenue by 12 billion baht annually. Thailand has increased their tobacco taxes ten times from 1994 to 2012.
- Despite strong industry lobbying, Hong Kong SAR increased tobacco taxes in 2009 and 2011, so that excise is HKD 34 for a pack of Marlboro that retails at HKD 50.
- Cambodia’s secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, has also declared recently that Cambodia is also well on its way to increasing tobacco taxes.
- Australia has passed legislation to increase the cost of a pack of 30 cigarettes to US$19.
The WHO advocates an excise tax of at least 70 percent of retail price, but the Philippines’ tax on the most-sold brand is only about 22 percent according to the WHO.
Cigarettes sold in the Philippines are among the cheapest in the region. According to the WHO, the most popular brands cost an average of less than 50 cents [US$ 0.50] per pack. By contrast, in the Lao People's Democratic Republic cigarette prices recently doubled to about one US dollar per pack. In Malaysia, cigarettes cost three US dollars per pack. The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in Hong Kong (China) is six USD and nine USD in Singapore. (ENDS).