NVAP hits move to delay unitary tobacco tax system

Dried tobacco leaves are sold in a market in Ilocos Norte. BERNARD TESTA/INTERAKSYON
 MANILA, Philippines – A group of laryngeal cancer survivors has warned against moves by some tobacco companies to stop a unitary tax system on tobacco products that was scheduled to start January 2017.

New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) president Emer Rojas accused the tobacco industry of trying to railroad the reformed sin tax system through House Bill 4144 which aims to maintain a two-tier tax system on tobacco products.

“As victims of tobacco-related diseases, NVAP is calling on our congressmen to consider public health over profits by rejecting any moves to stop the full implementation of the sin tax law through the unitary tax system,” Rojas said.

The Philippines marked a legislative milestone in 2012 when it passed a reformed sin tax law defying Asia’s strongest tobacco lobby that has been influencing public policies for many years.

The law, signed and implemented during the Aquino administration, imposed a four-tiered tax system on tobacco products starting 2012 that will become unitary commencing January 2017. This means that all tobacco products will now carry a P30 tax per pack.

Rojas said maintaining the current two-tier tax for tobacco products will defeat the very essence of the sin tax law, encourage the affordability of cigarette packs and put public health at risk.

“Despite the sin tax law, the prices of cigarette products in the Philippines remain to be one of the lowest in Asia. Blocking the unitary tax system would perpetuate the affordability of cigarettes in the Philippines to the detriment of public health,” he said.

Rojas called as “misleading” the tobacco industry’s use of farmers’ interests to dodge the implementation of unitary tax on cigarette products when billions of pesos have been appropriated under the sin tax law to support farmers into shifting to other sources of livelihood.

Fifteen percent of sin tax revenues were earmarked for farmers to help them find livelihood alternatives while 85% were allocated for health care.

“Since revenues from the sin tax were specifically allocated to support tobacco farmers, perhaps the farmers should ask for an audit on how the allocation was spent,” Rojas said.

Rojas said the sin tax, under Republic Act 7171 and Republic Act 8240, allocated funds to about 46,531 Virginia and Burley tobacco farmers to support alternative livelihood programs as they slowly shift to other non-tobacco products.

The latest results of the Tobacco Atlas covering the Association of Southeast Asian Region has revealed that 9,474 tobacco farmers in Ilocos Norte, La Union, and the Pangasinan region have shifted to non-tobacco products since 2013 that require less input and labor but yield higher incomes.