Pass the sin tax bill and save our children


My grandfather died of lung cancer, horribly and painfully, too soon before his time.  I was 10 years old then and was aghast at how skeletal he had become in his last days.

“He smoked cigarettes for decades,” my father said.  “Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he still could not quit.”

A kind and gentle man, my grandfather did not smoke in front of us but in his room or in the garden.  Although the ill effects of passive smoking were unknown then, he knew we would cough when we inhaled cigarette smoke.

My father, who became a doctor, and most of his siblings never smoked, since they witnessed firsthand its lethal effects on Grandpa.

Highest smoking rate

According to the primer “Sin Tax is Anti-Cancer Tax” from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health groups, the Philippines has the highest smoking rate in Southeast Asia. Some 17.3-million adults smoke (47.6 percent of men and 9 percent of women).  The smoking rate for women is the third highest in Asia, second only to Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The young, even tweens, also smoke. Among young smokers, 17.5 percent are girls and 28.3 percent are boys aged 13-15 years.

In 2005, the Senate, which included my father’s classmate, Dr. Juan Flavier, ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which says in part that “scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease and disability” and “there is clear scientific evidence that prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke causes adverse health and developmental conditions for children.”

If the Senate accepted the WHO Convention seven years ago, why the delay in passing the sin tax bill?

That smoking kills has been drummed into us in school, with apparently little effect, as some of my students still smoke.

So here are the facts, again.

Every hour, a person dies of lung cancer in the country.  One-fourth, 25 percent, of all kinds of cancer can be linked to smoking.  While many cancers have genetic causes or are hereditary, smoking is not.

Smoking is not just a risk factor for lung cancer, but also for cancer of the larynx, esophagus, pancreas, stomach, colon, anus, among others.  Smoking is also strongly linked to heart attack, stroke and chronic pulmonary disease—the other major causes of death in the country.

Every cigarette has 70 known carcinogens, including ammonia (also found in household cleaners), arsenic (in rat poison), benzene (in rubber cement), butane (in lighter fluid), carbon monoxide (in car exhaust), formaldehyde (in embalming fluid), lead (in batteries), naphthalene (in moth balls), nicotine (in insecticides) and tar (in road paving).


Secondhand smoke kills

Smoking does not just harm smokers but also people close to them—literally.  Just as drunks do not just harm themselves but also others when they drive, smokers do not put just themselves at risk but also other people, including loved ones.

It has long been known that passive smoking is as dangerous as actual smoking.  Nonsmokers, who are constantly exposed to tobacco smoke, are also at risk.  WHO says half of Filipino women and children are passive smokers.

Many women eventually develop cancer because they have the misfortune to live with smokers.  As for children, the 2011 Global Youth Tobacco Survey says more than two in five students live in houses with smokers.

In the past month, 55.3 percent of Filipino adults were exposed to tobacco smoke in public transport, 36.9 percent at work, 33.6 percent in restaurants, 25.5 percent in government buildings and, ironically, 7.6 percent in health facilities.

And the poorest of the poor are the hardest hit.  Dr. Tony Dans of the University of the Philippines, in an article in 2011 for the prestigious journal The Lancet, said the poorest fifth of the Philippine population smoked more than the wealthiest fifth.

“The current price of tobacco products, especially cigarettes, is the lowest in the region,” says Metrobank Outstanding Teacher Awardee and nurse Josefina Tuazon.  “Even with the proposed increase in sin tax, the price will still be low.”

This makes the issue of smuggling, which tobacco companies use as an argument against the sin tax, moot.  “Because of the cheap price of our tobacco, even with the sin tax, smuggling will be outward—from the Philippines to other countries,” Tuazon says.

The cost per year of cancer, heart attack, stroke and chronic lung disease is estimated at P177 billion (Dans, in an article for a forthcoming issue of the Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine, puts the figure at P188.8 billion).

The sin tax bill, if passed, will only generate P33 billion on its first year of implementation. But if the bill is passed, the ones who will benefit the most are the children.

The Department of Health says a mere 10-percent increase in tobacco tax will reduce the number of smokers by two million in 2016.

“A unitary specific tax of P30 would prevent nearly 4.6-million youths from taking up smoking and avert almost 2.3-million deaths,” says the WHO primer, which adds that revenue from sin taxes will go to health programs.

“Is the sin tax a revenue measure masquerading as a health care bill?” says Dans.  On the contrary, it is “an environmental measure aimed at controlling a societal disease that is masquerading as health problems in individuals.”

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  • opinyonlangpo

    The tax should increase into levels as in other countries, a tax of fifty pesos per pack would be helpful to the health of the people, to the coffers of the government and to the environment.

  • boybakal

    Maybe your statistics is wrong.
    We are now 100 million filipinos and more babies are coming.
    It means the birth rate is higher than mortality rate.

  • ramon_manahan

    50 percent of revenues to be collected from sin taxes will be allotted to the Department of Health (DoH) and the PhilHealth. Kaso ang problema, di pa nila nagagamit sa health service or
    program ang revenue share na nakuha sa tobacco taxes. Ang labo nila.

    • Guest

      Hindi lang naman kasi ang mga tobacco farmers ang apektado sa sin tax bill na ito, kundi pati na rin ang mga small retail stores and ambulant street vendors. Kaya mag-isip-isip itong mga senador na ito.

    • Guest

      And besides, there’s no guarantee na mapupunta sa health services ng tao ang pondo
      malilikom nila sa karagdagang buwis sa sigarilyo at alak. Mararamdaman ba ng ordinaryong tao yan. Walang kasigurhan di ba?

  • Guest

    Hindi naman “stamp pad” ang senador like Enrile. Hindi sila papayag na basta na lang aprubahan ang sin tax bill wihtout scrutinizing it and balance the interest of the country and the government.

    • Guest

      Drilon, other LP senators and their allies may attempt to railroad the sin tax reform bill but Enrile said hindi naman hawak ang ilong nila ng Palasyo kayo mahihirapan itong mga pro-sin tax senators na ito.

      • MikedChopper

        Kung nagawang mag-lobby ni Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco sa Lower House, gagawin din nya sa Senado. Si Danding ang dahilan kung nagkaroon ng disparity between the proposed sin tax rates of alcohol and tobacco products sa House approved version ng sin tax

      • sleepingbaby

        FYI. Si Danding Cojuangco ang reason why the alcohol industry got a more favorable deal in the approved tax bill. Ganyan din ang gagawing pag-lobby ni Danding sa Senate.

      • SCRCrown

        Tiyak ang sasandalan ni Danding Cojuangco sa Senado si Sen. Drilon. Kaya ganoon na
        lang kapursige si Drilon na isulong ang sin tax bill. Malamang may deal na sila
        ni Danding.

      • TsuperMahn

        Pero kahit anong gawing pag-railroad ni Drilon at iba pang LP senators sa Senado, hindi pwede madaliin ang pagpasa ng sin tax bill. Marami ang kokontra sa kanila.

      • Guest

        Tiyak magtutulong tulong
        sina Drilon, other LP members and their allies para idebate ang sin tax bill.
        Well given na yan kasi paid na sila ng BAT.

      • Guest

        and Pia Cayetano were first on the list who will defend the excise tax reform
        bill. How much would they get from BAT for their talent fee? Better ask them.

  • clowela_liezel

    Senators said they will not accept the basis of the Department of Finance in coming up with the P60 billion revenue target to be generated from the imposition of higher taxes on tobacco products and alcoholic drink. Hindi kasi kapani-paniwala ang mga sinasabi ni Purisima.

    • dsutada

      Senator should bear in mind that the ordinary people who will be adversely affected by
      government’s move to raise taxes, especially if such is excessive. Kawawa ang taumbayan.

    • Guest

      I doubt reelectionist senators would favor the excise tax reform bill. Malilintikan sila sa taumbayan kung papaborila nila ang bill na yan. Sige subukan nila, may ganti naman yan sa 2013 elections.

  • Guest

    Mismong si Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ang nag-assure they will not railroade the sin tax bill. Dadaan sa butas ng karayom ang bill na yan.

  • Guest

    Labor groups are right. The government is not
    providing a solution to the problem they plan to address; rather, they are
    creating another set of problems. Makakalikom nga sila ng buwis, marami naman
    ang mawawalan ng trabaho.

  • aqinkanauy

    Sin tax bill debate will start at the Senate plenary soon. Malapit na kasing I-submit ang committee report. Tiyak nakapila na diyan sina Drilon – the main defender of universe…este sin tax bill pala.

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