MANILA - Advocates of the sin tax law on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a "war on smoking" and shoot down a bill amending the law.
Dr. Tony Leachon, a cardiologist, said Duterte's campaign to make his hometown Davao smoke-free can be expanded on a national scale.
"Perhaps he is busy now with the first six months, but I think the thrust right now on free hospitalization has an impact on this because the funds that will be generated from the sin tax will be actually decreased. This will hamper or dampen the projects of the government to provide universal health care for all," Leachon said in a forum.
Leachon said the government's health care program won't be sufficiently covered by the increases prescribed by the proposed two-tiered system.
He emphasized that tobacco kills more people than illegal drugs, which has been the target of the president's centerpiece campaign.
"It's very close. Drugs and tobacco are both addictions, and to me, tobacco is the number 1 killer in the country, it's public enemy number 1," he said.
"If the President can train his sights on smoking, he can be the game-changer of the President we wanted during the election. It's about time to focus on health services and veer away from illegal drug trade, anyway may impact na siya doon. Dapat ang focus is the delivery of services. Kulang na kulang 'yun," he added.
Another sin tax law advocate, Dr. Antonio Dans, said government should also focus on tobacco.
"We have to bring out this fact: illegal drugs destroy lives, but tobacco kills. It's as big, if not a bigger problem," Dans said.
According to experts, the current sin tax law has not decreased the number of current smokers in the country. However, the law prevented more people from taking up the habit, especially among the poor and the young.
"Kasi ang premise diyan, ang naninigarilyo are usually the poor and the young. If the taxes are higher you'll prevent them [from smoking]," said Leachon.
Meanwhile, House majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas favors the two-tier tax rate system since it would generate more revenues for the government.
House Bill 4144, filed in October by ABS party-list Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera, took weeks to hurdle the ways and means committee and get approved in plenary on third and final reading. Other bills take years languishing in Congress.
The bill also enjoys majority support in the House, even from congressmen from tobacco-producing provinces up north.
Fariñas maintained that the bill was not railroaded, but was subjected to debate and study.
"The pros and cons were debated upon, but the pros had it. The unitary tax would have imposed on all cigarettes the same tax of P30 per pack. The amendment increases such by imposing P32 and P36 per pack. Which would generate more revenues? For example, there are a total two packs of cigarettes to be taxed. Under the unitary tax of P30 per pack, the taxes to be paid will be P60 even if one of the two packs is priced higher than the other. Under the two-tier system on these same two packs of cigarettes, the taxes to be paid would be P32 and P36, or a total of P68. Which system generates more revenues? As a health measure, the two-tier system is better as the prices of cigarettes would be higher since the taxes on them are higher, too," he said.
The Senate is now studying the bill.
"Tax measures always need careful study, always some kind of balancing of goals and interests involved," said Senator Sonny Angara, the chair of the Senate committee on ways and means.