A group of anti-smoking advocates and cancer survivors described the sin tax law as a legislative milestone and a triumph of public health and victory against the powerful tobacco companies in the country.
New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) President and Global Cancer Ambassador Emer Rojas attributed the passage of the sin tax-law to the strong collaboration of the executive department and the health community in a grueling fight fully backed by a strong public support.
“Many years ago we’re fortunate if we’re even able to have a proposed bill pass Congress’ health committee. It was like breaking the back of the beast,” Rojas said referring to the difficulty of pushing the amended sin tax law amid a strong tobacco lobby considered the most powerful in Asia.
In December, 2012, President Aquino signed Republic Act 10351, ending a 15-year legislative impasse in restructuring levies imposed on tobacco and liquor.
Rojas recalled how the tobacco industry tried to undermine the bill by waging old threats such as job losses for farmers and smuggling issues.
“Two years after the law was implemented those fears did not happen. Instead, we saw a decrease in tobacco consumption and increases in health financing that is now benefiting poor Filipinos including persons with disabilities,” said Rojas, who is also the PWD sector representative at the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).
DECLINE IN TOBACCO CONSUMPTION
A research by the Social Weather Station in March, 2014 showed that tobacco consumption among the poor and the young has declined more than a year after the law was passed.
Results of the study showed that smoking prevalence among socioeconomic Class E has significantly dropped from 38 percent in December, 2012 to 25 percent March this year.
On the other hand, tobacco consumption among young Filipinos aged 18-24 also went down from 35 percent to 18 percent during the same period.
The Philippines is one of Southeast Asia’s biggest tobacco users with 17.3 million Filipinos puffing an average of 1,073 sticks per year with the poorest of the poor consuming the largest share.
Rojas said smoking prevalence across socioeconomic and age groups is expected to drop further as the sin tax imposes a unitary taxation across all tobacco products come 2017.
INCREASED RESOURCES FOR HEALTHCARE
Aside from the marked decline in tobacco consumption, the sin tax law likewise led to more funding for healthcare and related services which now benefits millions of poor families, senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).
This year, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) was allocated P35.7 billion from the health department’s budget to enroll 14.7 million Filipinos who belong to the poorest of the poor.
The boost in PhilHealth’s budget also paved the way for the state healthcare insurance to widen its coverage, including the Z – Mobility, Orthosis, Rehabilitation, Prosthesis Help (Z-MORPH) benefit package that aims to support the needs of PWDs.
“Like we always say in the past the sin tax is a health measure. Today we are seeing the wisdom of increasing tax for tobacco reducing smoking prevalence and at the same time increasing investments for public health that benefits the poor and other marginalized sectors of society,” Rojas said.