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MANILA - An international anti-smoking crusader has backed the Aquino administration’s move to raise taxes on 'sin' products.
Northeastern University School of Law Professor Richard A. Daynard, JD, PhD, told InterAksyon.com that the increase in cigarette taxes in the United States reduced by half the smoking rates among teens from levels seen 20 years ago.
"A lot of the reason why there is a high rate of smoking here is because cigarettes are so cheap and they are much cheaper here than they are in most countries becase there's very little tax," said Daynard, also the president of the US Public Health Advocacy Institute.
Daynard said current taxes are well below the global standards and cigarettes sold here are 10 times cheaper than those in the United States. He blamed the cheap prices on a provision in the Tax Code that protects old brands at 1996 tax rates and on their non-indexation to inflation.
He said that provision is a "gift" to Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp., which is blocking a legislative measure aimed at reforming Republic Act 9334 or the Sin Tax Law.
Accounting for 90 percent of the Philippine market, PMFTC combines tobacco giants Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. and Fortune Tobacco market.
"The question is, Is it really a good thing for the Philippines to be making this little instruments of death? Is this an industry you really want to get into? But whether it is or it isn't, it has nothing to do with how much tax they are paying. If they think it's profitable to build the industry, they'll build it here. But there's no reason why the Philippines and the taxpayers should give them tens of millions of dollars a year just because they are building a factory here," Daynard said.
Aside from raising prices, considered the single most effective deterrent to smoking, Daynard also encouraged the government to step up its campaign against the use of cigarettes with the country lagging in terms of global standards for tobacco control.
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.
"Packagings here don't have pictorial warnings, pictures of diseased lungs, people with mouth cancer. The warnings are just in writing which are much less effective. It's just on one side of the pack. It should be on both sides of the pack," Daynard said.
He encouraged the Philippines 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.
There should also be no exception for smoking rooms in public places and a total advertising ban on smoking, he said.
"I think there are some kinds of promotion for cigarettes that are permitted here. There's no reason why a product that when used as directed will kill you has to be advertised and promoted," he said.
Daynard 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.
"It happened quickly especially with Irish bars which were totally smoky. People who wouldn't go to pubs because of all the smoke suddenly went and they were hooked. A lot of the smokers quit. Everyone thought that the last place in Europe to go smoke-free was the Irish pub but it was the first one to go so if they can do it we can do it," Daynard said.
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, he said. 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 the idea of a tobacco executive now in the US is somebody who will say and do anything including risking lives of his customers in order to increase profits. It makes it much harder for them to do their marketing and public relations now," Daynard said.
He said the current version of House Bill 5727 or An Act Restructuring the Excise Tax on Alcohol and Tobacco Products is "a very good bill as it stands."
"If that bill's passed without being amended, that will be a very good thing for the Philippines," he said.
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