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MANILA - Raising taxes on “sin” products would curb the high rate of smoking here and prevent rising cases of early deaths and debilitating diseases caused by the lethal effects of smoking, an expert said Wednesday.
Northeastern University School of Law Professor Richard A. Daynard said that the main reason why there is a high rate of smoking in the country is because cigarettes are so cheap here due to minimal tax on the product.
"They are much cheaper here than they are in most countries because there is very little tax," Daynard, a staunch anti-smoking crusader of world-wide fame, said during a lecture at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
Daynard said current taxes are well below the global standards and cigarettes sold here are 10 times cheaper than those in the United States (US).
He said that the price per pack of cigarettes in New York is about 10 to 11 US dollars – or about P420 to P462 at current peso-dollar rates.
“The cheap price led to the large consumption of tobacco products and had made the Philippines with the highest per capita number of smokers in the region,” Daynard said.
He added that existing tax provisions virtually gave Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC) the monopoly on tobacco products.
Accounting for 90 percent of the Philippine market, PMFTC combines tobacco giants Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. and Fortune Tobacco.
PMFTC is currently blocking the passage of the administration’s Sin Tax Bill which seeks to reform the current taxes of tobacco and alcohol products and raise needed revenues - to the tune of P60 billion a year - for the government’s Universal Health Care program.
Daynard said that Marlboro, the best-selling cigarette brand of PMFTC, is “the deadliest weapon of mass destruction ever devised."
He said that smoking cigarettes, be it Marlboro or any other brands, causes an epidemic of health diseases that kills millions of people worldwide.
These include lung and throat cancer, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others.
Incidentaly, COPD was listed as the cause of death of Philippine Comedy King”Rodolfo Vera Quizon Sr., better known as Dolphy.
Death due to smoking
Citing World Health Organization (WHO) figures, Daynard said that six million people around the world die of tobacco-related diseases yearly.
“The WHO estimated that tobacco-related deaths would reach the one billion mark this century if no preventive measures are undertaken to curb cigarette smoking,” he warned.
Raising prices through increased taxes, which is considered the single most effective deterrent to smoking, will contribute to a 30- to 40-percent drop in smoking and will result in a large drop in child and teen smoking, he said.
Aside from raising prices, Daynard also encouraged the government to step up its campaign against the use of cigarettes as the country is lagging in terms of global standards for tobacco control.
'Comply with anti-tobacco guidelines'
The Philippines is a signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but it has yet to comply with some of its guidelines, including a provision that requires health warnings and messages on tobacco product packaging and labeling to be at 50 percent or more, but no less than 30 percent.
"Cigarrette packaging here do not have graphic warnings - like pictures of diseased lungs, people with mouth cancer. The warnings are just in writing which is much less effective," Daynard said.
He encouraged the Philippine government to consider following the lead of Australia, which has legislated plain cigarette packaging that removed all forms of branding such as colors, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks.
According to the latest news reports, Australia's highest court had upheld the world's toughest law on cigarette promotion Wednesday (August 15, 2012) prohibiting tobacco company logos on cigarette packs that will instead show cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs, and sickly children.
The Australian High Court rejected a challenge by tobacco companies who argued the value of their trademarks will be destroyed if they are no longer able to display their distinctive colors, brand designs and logos on packs of cigarettes.
He said the Philippines should follow this lead and put in place a total advertising ban on smoking.
“I see no reason why a product that when used as directed will kill you has to be advertised and promoted," Daynard said.
He rated Singapore and Western Europe, which have adhered to stringent packaging measures and prevented complete ban of smoking in public areas, as the models for tobacco control.
He also encouraged suing tobacco companies for tobacco-related deaths and diseases.
“Tobacco litigation is another way of creating public awareness to the evils of cigarette smoking,” he said.
He cited the US experience wherein dramatic gains in the effort to discourage tobacco use in the US were seen in the middle to late 1990s when various states sued tobacco companies because of rising tobacco-related healthcare costs.
This paved the way for the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, which curtailed or ceased marketing practices of tobacco companies and allowed the states to recover their medical costs.
"This changed public attitude towards the tobacco industry and made it much harder for tobacco companies to do their marketing and public relation," Daynard said.
In the meantime, he said the current version of the Sin Tax Bill, otherwise known as House Bill 5727 or An Act Restructuring the Excise Tax on Alcohol and Tobacco Products, is "a very good bill to legislate."
"If the Sin Tax Bill is passed without being amended, that will be a very good thing for the Philippines," he said.
“An effective policy to curb the rise of smoking-related diseases is more effective than what the greatest surgeon can accomplish,” Daynard said.
Professor Daynard, who is also the president of the US Public Health Advocacy Institute, is at the forefront of an international movement to establish the legal responsibility of the tobacco industry for tobacco-induced death, disease and disability.
He is president of the Northeastern University law school's Public Health Advocacy Institute and chair of its Tobacco Products Liability Project and teaches in the areas of public health law, strategic litigation, and administrative law.
Professor Daynard has been the principal investigator in grants and contracts from the National Cancer Institute, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the American Legacy Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.