By Chito Chavez
A Quezon City-based health group said increasing taxes for tobacco is very crucial in achieving universal public health care.
New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP president Emer Rojas stressed that it is a measure that will transform access to health an issue of right and not a privilege, saying that this is the same sentiment of a network of people with disability.
He said the group has supported legislative moves to raise tobacco tax from the current P35 per pack to P60 per pack or more to achieve a number of health targets including a further decrease in tobacco consumption since the sin tax was amended in 2012.
“As Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) we are often faced with the dilemma of having to access appropriate health care services due to their costs so having a universal health care in place would hopefully bridge that gap,” Rojas, a PWD who lost his voice due to laryngeal cancer, said.
Rojas said the sin tax was instrumental in increasing health budgets since five years ago with 85 percent of it used to fund health programs such as indigent enrolment with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Zmorph packages for cancer victims and assistive devices for PWDs through the Department of Social Welfare and Services.
He added that a boost in tobacco tax would also help the country achieve its global commitments to reduce the four types of non-communicable diseases which are cardiovascular and chronic obstructive respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
“This global action plan, which the Philippines committed to in 2013, seeks to reduce the country’s smoking prevalence to around 18 percent by 2025. If we aim to achieve this we should make adjustments to the sin tax,” Rojas explained.
It is estimated that the country loses P210 billion a year from just the four major tobacco-related diseases alone.
Rojas said this estimate does not include losses from 36 other life-threatening diseases associated with smoking.
He however said despite increases in tobacco tax since the amendment of the sin tax in 2012, the Philippines still has one of the world’s cheapest tobacco products that make them attractive to young people and the poor.
He cited a national survey by the Department of Health which revealed that young Filipinos were likely to be discouraged from taking up smoking if the prices of cigarettes were increased to ten pesos per stick.
Nilo delos Reyes, president of the Caloocan PWD Zone Association, said an annual increase of P25 per pack of cigarette or P1.25 per stick would likely save 100, 000 lives per year.
“An estimated 200,000 Filipino smokers are added to the number of smokers for every year that we fail to implement adjustments to the sin tax. We should remember that smoking causes disability, too, such as blindness and amputations,” Delos Reyes said.
Rojas called on all PWDs and other disadvantaged groups to support the call to increase tobacco tax to fund a functional and responsive universal health care for all.