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MANILA, Philippines - The continued rise in smoking prevalence in the Philippines and its attendant high health costs warrant a sin tax reform that could effectively curtail tobacco consumption, the advocacy group Action for Economic Reforms (AER) said Monday.
The much-needed tax reform must therefore include the essential features of high taxes, simplified tax structure, indexation of tax rates to inflation, and removal of the price classification freeze, AER added.
“Smoking has been associated with tuberculosis for as long as 50 years,” according to Dr. Camilo Roa, vice-president of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society Inc. (PTSI), an NGO established in 1910 for TB control. “Recent studies have shown a clear and distinct link between active and passive smoking and a range of TB outcomes.”
According to data from a recent study conducted by the WHO and The Union, the global incidence of TB cases reached an estimate of 8.8 million. The numbers continue to rise yearly, with 9.4 million cases in 2008. If left unchecked, the incidence rates could reach as much as 10 million new cases by 2015.
“Our country has one of the highest number of tuberculosis cases in the world,” asserted Roa. “The fact that smoking directly affects the disease should signal a red flag to legislators. This makes the passage of the sin tax bill all the more crucial.”
“Compared to non-smokers, current and former smokers are at greater risk of TB infection. The odds are even greater if you consider the duration of smoking or the amount of cigarette consumption,” maintained Roa. “Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases the risk of infection, particularly among the young.”
He continued, “If infected, active smoking heightens the risk of disease and may even worsen its severity. The risk is much higher the longer you smoke or the younger you are when you pick up the habit.”
Studies also show a positive association between secondhand smoke and TB disease, with the risk among children much higher compared to adults.
Regular secondhand smoking at close range substantially increases the risk in children, even if they do not have direct contact with TB patients. The risk factor is heightened further with the number of cigarettes smoked by the family per day, and even more so with close contact to smoking household members.
Dr. Roa added that smoking greatly increases the risk of death in a diseased patient and affirmed, “Nearly 61 percent of TB deaths may be attributed to smoking. In fact, one in five deaths could be avoided if patients were not smokers.”
“Political commitment to reduce the smoking burden is essential – not just for tobacco users, but also for tuberculosis victims and their families,” said Roa. “We cannot let the two epidemics continue to ravage our country. We are urging the Senate to legislate a sin tax reform that truly puts the health of millions first.”