Aquino supports sin tax reform bill

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III supports the sin tax reform measures pending in Congress, despite being a known smoker.

"Being a smoker is irrelevant. The President supports the sin tax measure," said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

According to Valte, she heard Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya tell a radio interview on Friday (March 16) that despite being a smoker Aquino was "completely behind the measure."

Abaya, the chair of the House committee on appropriations, is the author of House Bill No. 5727, one of 12 pending measures in Congress seeking to restructure the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products.

HB 5727 was one of the priority measures that Malacañang submitted to Congress in August last year through the legislative-executive development and advisory council.

Smoking, decision-making

"We support fully the health campaign not only of the National Youth Commission but also of the Department of Health," Valte told a Malacañang press briefing.

But she refused to comment on a question from a reporter who quoted a study that said smoking affected a person's ability to make decisions.

"We don't need to respond to that anymore. We just don't need to," Valte said.

HB 5727 proposes to replace the four-tier system on cigarettes and alcohol with a unitary system that critics said tended to favor high-priced imported brands over lower-priced local brands. (The tax on the cheapest cigarette would increase from 2.72 to 30 pesos per pack.)

Sin tax reform is expected to significantly increase the prices of tobacco products and has been endorsed by Malacañang as it would have the effect of raising an additional 400 billion pesos in revenues for the government during the last four years of Mr. Aquino's term.

Killing the industry

The government's move to raise the so-called sin taxes is being opposed by lawmakers from the Solid North-the traditional tobacco-growing regions of Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon-claiming it would kill the tobacco industry and threaten the livelihood of 2.9 million tobacco farmers and workers and their dependents.

Local distillers, led by the giant San Miguel Corp., warned that the 1,000-per-cent hike in taxes being sought by the sin tax measure would drive local players out of business and leave hundreds of thousands of workers jobless as domestic brands would lose their price advantage over foreign brands.

Very affordable now

The National Youth Commission (NYC) said it is supporting the passage of HB 5727 as it would significantly increase tobacco prices and make tobacco products less accessible to the youth and also generate more funds for a universal health-care system in the country.

NYC commissioner at large Percival Cendaña cited recent studies that said tobacco products are very affordable under the present excise tax rates. He said the very minimal increases in tax in 2005 and 2007 were ineffective in curbing smoking among the youth.

"Raising the price of cigarettes will definitely curb smoking among young people," Cendaña said.

The NYC said there was a need to strengthen the imposition of the current ban on selling tobacco products to minors.

It cited a Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2003 and 2007 that showed a 40-per-cent increase in smoking prevalence among young Filipinos, or those 13 to 15 years old, from 19.6 per cent (1 million) in 2003 to 27.3 per cent (1.6 million) in 2007.

NYC chair Leon Flores III said that with this trend and without a significant change in other factors affecting smoking behavior, the survey projected that smoking prevalence among teens aged 13 to 15 in 2011 was 38.2 per cent, or 2.3 million individuals.

Flores said the commission was concerned that the youth have become the new targets of tobacco companies because they have a longer life span than older smokers.

Getting young people to start smoking would mean eventually producing more adults addicted to cigarettes, he said.

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