Cancer survivors, tobacco victims welcome Duque return to DOH

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File photo of newly appointed DOH chief Francisco Duque III

MANILA, Philippines — A group of tobacco victims and cancer survivors welcomed the return of Dr. Francisco Duque III as Health secretary, saying it “comes at a crucial time in the anti-tobacco campaign.”

Emer Rojas, a tobacco victim and cancer survivor who heads New Vois Association of the Philippines, said Duque’s return heralds the continuation of reforms he initiated when he headed the Department of Health under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“We are truly grateful to President Rodrigo Duterte for appointing another health champion to the DOH,” a statement released by NVAP on Friday, November 3, said.

“While we are sad that former Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial was unable to finish her term we are however relieved that she is being replaced by an equally deserving health leader,” the group added. Ubial was rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

Rojas said he is confident Duque will support efforts to double the tobacco tax from the current P30 to P60 per pack of cigarettes and then impose an annual nine percent increase, as sought by Senate Bill 1599 filed by Senator Manny Pacquiao.

“Despite the approval of the amendments to the sin tax law in 2012 tobacco price(s) in the Philippines remain to be the cheapest in Asia and the third most inexpensive among the rest of the world,” Rojas said.

He stressed that government should prioritize jacking up the tobacco tax, citing a study by the National Academy of Science and Technology that estimates that each year of delay in increasing the tobacco tax would result in up to 200,000 new smokers in the country, most likely “from the very young and very poor sectors.”