Higher tobacco tax to fund UHC, reduce number of smokers

MANILA Increasing tobacco tax will fund the universal health care program (UHC) and lower the number of smokers in the country, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday.

In a press conference in Pasay City, Duque said UHC is a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration so the department is committed to working with the House of the Representatives and the Senate for the final ratification of the UHC bill.

"The bill also pushes for the equity in provision of health care especially for those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas. It also strengthens the government to regulate health facilities and health care providers and health insurance policies and ensure that heallth care is within the reach of everyone," he added.

Citing that UHC program implementation requires substantial funds, Duque said increasing taxes on tobacco is one of the best ways to generate additional revenues for it.

"Currently, there are two bills tackling the increase of excise tax on tobacco which is Senate Bill 1599 by Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao and Senate Bill 1605 by Senator JV Ejercito, increasing the unitary excise tax of cigarettes to PHP60 and PHP90, respectively. Not only will it provide funding to UHC but also the reduction of smoking prevalence in the country," he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who also attended the press briefing, said related studies show that tobacco taxes really work in terms of reducing smoking prevalence.

"From 29.7 percent in 2009 to 23.8 percent in 2015, the biggest drop in the smoking prevalence is biggest among the youth which is good because we don't want them to take on this habit," she said.

Hontiveros noted that around 10 percent annual increase on tobacco tax will result in one million less smokers by 2022.

"Since this is a tax measure, the bonus will be on the funds it could generate para lalo pa natin mapaganda ang ating health system at masiguro ang UHC para sa lahat (so we can improve our health system and ensure UHC for all), she added.

Ejercito, who was also at the briefing, said Duterte certified the UHC bill as urgent so Congress is targeting to pass it by October. He added critics of the bill say it is an ambitious and expensive program so that is why they want to ensure that it has proper funding before it is passed.

In connection with the UHC bill ratification and implementation, Ejercito said he will continue to push for tobacco tax increase for the benefit of every Filipino burdened by "out-of-pocket expenses" related to health care.

"Iyung tobacco tax na PHP32.50 hindi man lang masasaktan ang tobacco companies niyan. But we are still determined to push for it dahil may kulang pa rin sa funds para ma-achieve ang genuine health coverage. May shortage pa of about PHP50 billion (The tobacco tax of 32.50 pesos [per pack], tobacco companies won't be hurt by that. But we are still determined to push for it [tobacco tax increase] because we still lack funds to achieve genuine health coverage there is still about PHP50 billion shortage)," he said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency