BETWEEN tobacco tax and public health, the government’s choice is clear: money.
Tobacco taxes fund public health programs anyway.
This was essentially the message that the Philippine delegation to the recently concluded ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
“The taxes of a vice are qualified as salutary. They finance useful and beneficial objectives”, one reads in the statement of the delegation, delivered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr., at the opening of the conference. six-day virtual tour, November 8.
For this reason, health experts said that “public health is under attack by the tobacco industry and its proxies” and recalled that the government “must protect and prioritize the health of all Filipinos over to the profits of the tobacco industry â.
Locsin was one of 10 co-heads of the 52-man delegation to the biennial meeting of the COP, a governing body made up of representatives from around 170 FCTC signatory countries. The FCTC, the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO, aims to address the health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. The Philippines became a party to the WHO Framework Convention on September 4, 2005, seven months after the treaty entered into force.
While the Philippine delegation acknowledged that tobacco is “a source of ill health”, it quickly shifted gears, stating that it “is also a source of good through taxation.”
âTobacco tax laws fund our property reduction, universal health care and Covid-19 recovery programs. They underscore the importance of tobacco use and funding the most important activities of the world. ‘State,’ he said.
The most disturbing part of the statement sounded like a tribute to the tobacco industry, claiming that it “did not rest on its hands, but allowed this popular vice to go unchecked” and “a created products that provided similar satisfaction, but with much less prejudice. “
Locsin said the government had done its part by legislating two excise tax laws, which included provisions banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and flavorings on vapor-based products.
Health experts, including former health secretaries Esperanza Cabral, Paulyn Ubial, Carmencita Reodica and Antonio Periquet, wereted no time in countering the Philippine delegation’s statement.
“It is a shameful and painful insult to the families of the more than 320 Filipinos who die daily from tobacco-related illnesses,” said the health experts’ “united statement”, also signed by the former PhilHealth chairman Alex Padilla and officers. major medical associations in the country, such as the Philippine Medical Association, the College of Physicians of the Philippines, the College of Thoracic Physicians of the Philippines, the Philippine Pediatric Society, and the Philippine Neurological Society.
The Ministry of Health (DoH), which was part of the Philippine delegation to COP9, distanced itself from the government’s position, stressing that “there is no good in tobacco”.
In a strongly worded statement, the DoH criticized the Philippine delegation for giving “misleading information that dilutes the risks of tobacco products and undue recognition of the tobacco industries, including those of vapor products and tobacco products. heated tobacco “.
He also countered Locsin’s reasoning that taxes fund public health activities, citing that in 2011 the estimated cost of tobacco-related illnesses was 177 billion pesos per year, which was about seven times higher. that the total taxes collected on tobacco products in the same year, amounting to only 25.9 billion pesos.
Instead of acknowledging the harmful effects of tobacco and alternative products on public health, experts lamented that the government’s position “welcomes tobacco companies and their facades and echoes their unscientific and profit-oriented claims on electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products â.
According to health experts, Locsin’s claim that electronic cigarettes or vapers “offered similar satisfaction, but with much less damage” than smoking “has no solid scientific basis and goes to the forefront. against growing evidence globally of the real harm of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
“There is not enough scientific evidence and no medical consensus that these electronic smoker products are safer or healthier alternatives or that they help smokers quit,” they added, noting that President Rodrigo Duterte himself has called these products “toxic”.
In November 2019, Duterte said cigarettes and vaping are “not good for humans.” It said it would ban its use and import “because it is toxic” and “the government has the power to take action to protect public health and the public interest.”
The increase in excise duty rates on so-called “sin” products, including tobacco and its by-products, has dramatically reduced its consumption over the years. Some of the good initiatives of the Duterte administration to wean Filipino smokers from the harmful effects of tobacco products include the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 10963, or the “Acceleration and Inclusion Act of tax reform â, and RA 11346, increasing the excise tax. on tobacco products and the imposition of an excise tax on heated tobacco and steam-based products.
However, serious efforts have been made to dilute certain provisions of the New Tobacco Products Act such as the ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors and flavorings on vapor products. Senators are locked in debates over a bill lowering the minimum age for access to vaporized nicotine products from 21 to 18, and removing regulatory functions on these products from the Food and Drug Administration at the Department of Commerce and Industry. The House of Representatives approved a similar bill last May.
Advocates see this attempt to change the 2019 law as the equivalent of two steps back from a step forward the Duterte administration has taken to tackle the harmful effects of tobacco, especially on young people.
Due to the government’s position at COP9 – which was widely seen as pro-tobacco industry – the Philippines received three “Dirty Ashtray” awards, a pamphlet award for businesses and governments seen as hawkers of the interests of the tobacco industry, by the international monitoring body Framework Convention Alliance. .
Medical associations said the pamphlet prices serve as “evidence of the tobacco industry’s strong and growing interference in the Philippine government” and that “tobacco interests are at the forefront” on the agenda of the delegation to COP9 while the public health interests and opinions of health professionals and the DoH were sidelined and ignored.
Sources familiar with the Philippines’ preparations for COP9 noted that Dr Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians and an active advocate for tobacco control, has been removed from the official delegation and replaced by Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano, a Vice President in the House who is known as the pro-tobacco industry.
Clearly, the government delegation has chosen to relegate public health to the background because tobacco brings in money. Some say the industry provides generous freebies and travel benefits to its allies.