FILIPINO smokers remain unmoved.

Despite the implementation of Republic Act 10351, or commonly known as the Sin Tax Law, a report released by the Asean Tobacco Control Atlas in August showed cigarette prices in the Philippines remain to be among the lowest in Southeast Asia, meaning they don't discourage people from smoking.

The report further stated that the country has the second-largest smoking population inthe region at 13.6 percent, next to Indonesia, where Filipinos spend about P326.4 million on cigarettes every month but only three percent is allotted for tobacco control in the government.

Senate President Franklin Drilon affirmed the report and said the law has not stopped smokers from buying cigarettes.

“Cigarettes were reportedly resilient from the effects of the Sin Tax Law. It appears that consumers shifted to lower-priced brands when it was implemented,” Drilon said in an e-mail to the Varsitarian.

Mason Koukourakis, general manager of Japan Tobacco International (Philippines), Inc., said in a Philippine Star article that consumers only shifted to cheaper brands of cigarettes, as there are still a number them available in the market.

He added that the availability of these products prevented the government from meeting its desired effect.

“There was the influx in the market of brands that sell one peso per stick or less than 20 pesos per pack,” Koukourakis said. “This means consumers have cheaper choices than they had before.”

However, Dr. Ivanhoe Escartin, director for health promotions of the Department of Health, believes that there is still no hard evidence available to substantiate the claim, as shown from the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted in 2009.

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He added that the following GATS, which will be conducted in 2014, could be used toevaluate the efficiency of the law.

“By then, the Sin Tax Law will be on its second year of implementation,” Escartin said. “Its results could be used as a basis of comparison.”

He clarified that there was no significant difference in the health effects of expensive tobacco products with its cheap counterparts.

He added that tobacco use remains the biggest preventable cause of disease, disability and premature deaths in the world, as smoke from tobacco is dangerous, killing up to half of its users and kills nearly six million people annually.

"It contains nicotine; the main addictive component of tobacco, [with] 70 known carcinogens or cancer-causing agents, toxic metals such as lead and arsenic and poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide and ammonia,” Escartin said.

Weapons of warfare

Aside from the implementation of the Sin Tax Law, the government is looking forward to impose several other alternatives to finally win the war against the use of ‘sin’ products.

Drilon said they are intending to re-file the proposed Graphic Health Warnings Bill.

“By strategically placing meaningful graphic images along with text warnings to cigarette cartons and other tobacco products, we hope to effectively deter smoking,” he said.

“The proposed ‘Picture-Based Health Warning Act of 2013’ mandates the placing of graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging to further strengthen the government’sefforts to discourage smoking,” the Senate President added. “It prescribes that all cigarette packages and other tobacco products found in the market, including cartons or master cases, must bear highly visible full-color picture-based health warnings.”

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Escartin also believes graphic warnings have the potential of reducing the number of smokers as these images are more recognizable than other forms of warnings.

“Picture labels have more impact and stronger effect than text warnings and are better appreciated by the youth, those with lower literacy attainment and lower socio-economic status,” he said.

However, Escartin clarified that these resolutions are still not possible, because the current law only allows the use of textual warnings.

“Our law only allows textual warning. Among the 10 Asean countries, Philippines, together with Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, only has textual warning,” he said.

Moreover, Escartin said banning of tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship might help decrease the number of smokers.

Meanwhile, he added that the implementation of smoke-free communities is a proven strategy to reduce smoking in the country.

While the Sin Tax Law seems to still be ineffective in curbing the country’s smoking population, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is looking forward to hit, or even exceeding, its sin tax collection target of P60 billion this year.

The BIR reported a 25 percent hike in tax payments by manufacturers of cigarettes and liquor, with two-thirds of the amount coming from the tobacco industry alone.

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