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Cigarette prices in the Philippines now world's second-lowest

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

Amid debates over Sin Taxes and a campaign to raise the price of cigarette prices so as to help curb tobacco use, a global survey says the cheapest cigarettes in the world are in Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Hunan in China, and Pakistan.

This is according to data compiled by two smokers who put up a website exclusively for the prices of a 20-cigarette pack of Marlboros all over the world.

Cigaretteprices.net says that the cheapest cigarettes can be found in Zimbabwe at $0.60, then in the Philippines at $0.80, which is tied with Hunan, China, and in Pakistan at $1. The first three are at 2011 prices, while the last is at this year’s prices.

Through a quick survey of Marlboro packs peddled in Makati City, InterAksyon found that a five-piece sachet is priced at P7 to P10; a ten-piece pack at P20 to P25; a 20-piece “soft” pack at P30 to P40; and a flip-top pack at P41 to P50.

“We have some of the cheapest (cigarette) prices in the world,” said pulmonologist Dr. Maricar Limpin, who is also the executive director of the FCTC Alliance Philippines. The FCTC refers to a global convention to which the Philippines is signatory, and which aims to put in place a set of WHO-recommended interventions to stop smoking worldwide.

Low prices and the 'tingi' system, said Limpin, make cigarettes easily accessible. This is precisely why antit-tobacco advocates are seeking higher sin taxes.

“There are many poor people who have smoking-related diseases,” she said. “Many people die earlier because of tobacco. A higher sin tax bill is effective to deter the impoverished and the youth from smoking. It will protect their lives.”

The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said Filipinos had "won a battle" by forcing Sen. Ralph Recto to step down as Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman following his controversial "watering down" of a Sin Tax bill, but the regional alliance stressed that given the realities of cheap cigarettes in the country, "clearly, the Filipinos' war against tobacco is far from over."

Senior economics consultant Jo-Ann Latuja, who works for public-interest organization Action for Economic Reforms (AER), was mystified why the Philippines continued to keep its cigarette prices low, while other countries wanted to increase them.

“We know that (smoking) has negative effects. Why? What is the reason (for these low prices)?” There were even cigarettes in the provinces, said Latuja, that were being sold for as low as P5 for a packet of 30s.

“No wonder that the smoking prevalence among our youth is increasing. Now they’re targeting the youth and women because the men are dying. They are looking for a new market so they can earn.”

Like Limpin, Latuja expressed the need for higher taxes on cigarettes.

“The public must be vigilant in watching the senators. (They are making) a choice between protecting public health and protecting the profits of big tobacco (companies). Public pressure matters to senators. It is important that we watch them.”

Just last week, sin tax reform advocates and health organizations were incensed because of Senator Ralph Recto’s “watered down” bill which “seeks to hike levies on cigarettes and alcohol products.” (http://www.interaksyon.com/business/45221/recto-has-declared-war-on-us-by-watering-down-sin-tax-bill---civil-society)

The former Senate Committee on Ways and Means chair has since resigned from his post, saying he could not please everyone with his report.

“Raising the excise tax on cigarettes to P30 a pack would cut down (smokers’) consumption by nearly half while raising P53.3 billion in additional revenues,” according to a recent study (http://www.interaksyon.com/business/42265/p30-tax-will-cut-cigarette-consumption-by-half---study) by the University of the Philippines, the Department of Health, and the University of Illinois in Chicago.

“P30 represents an excise tax rate of 55 percent, jacking up the average retail price of cigarettes by 90 percent to P54.50 per pack. At this price point, the number of premature deaths from smoking would go down by 3.82 million or 26 percent, according to the study,” said an InterAksyon report.

Other parts of the globe

In neighboring countries, Cigaretteprices.net reports that Singapore has the highest cigarette prices at $9.20, while the lowest prices are found in Vietnam at $1.30.

In the United States, the Virgin Islands have the lowest rates at $3, while the highest can be found in New York at $11.90.

The most expensive cigarettes in the world are found in Australia, which charges $16.40 for every pack.

According to data from Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), life expectancy at birth in this country is almost 82 years, which is “two years higher than the OECD average of 80 years.”

According to its website, http://www.oecd.org/about/, OECD promotes “policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” The organization has 34 member-countries. They cull information from national statistics offices and the United Nations, among others.

OECD’s Better Life Index measures the conditions of each of the 34 countries in terms of 11 factors that are “essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions and quality of life.”

According to this, “tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases” in these 34 countries.

For its part, Australia “has achieved remarkable progress in reducing tobacco consumption, cutting by more than half the percentage of adults who smoke daily from 35.4 percent in 1983 to 15.1 percent in 2010.”

It now has one of the lowest smoking rates (http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/australia/) among adults living in those countries, “equal to the United States and behind only Sweden and Iceland. Much of the decline in Australia can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation.”

In Sweden, cigarette prices are at $7.10, while they are $7.70 in Iceland. These are this year’s figures according to Cigaretteprices.net.

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