By Mar Supnad
While the government banned smoking in public places effective July 23, it continues to collect tens of billions of taxes from the tobacco industry.
Says, “the national government keeps on attacking the smoking habit in the pretext of protecting human’s health but it also continued to collect tens of billions of taxes from the tobacco industry,” said Mario Cabasal, president of the 55,000-strong tobacco farmers association.
Cabasal cited the P140 billion collected by the national government from sin taxes recently where 70 percent of it was intended for unitary health care of the Department of Health.
But now he lamented, lawmakers are squabbling and hell-bent to raise the taxes again and worse, he said, they are proposing a unitary tax law which imposes a two-tier form of taxes, to the prejudice of poor smokers.
But those earning billions from the tobacco industry are the cigarrette manufacturing firms themselves at the expense of the tobacco farmers who have become poorer.
Despite the much-publicized hate campaign by the government against smoking, many Filipinos are still hooked on buying the only product legalized in the country.
In other words, a person who gets inflicted with lung cancer due to smoking cannot file a case against the manufacturers for getting sick because he or she has been warned—“Smoking kills” or “Smoking is dangerous to your health.”
But why do most Filipinos still opt to smoke? Is it because the textual warnings simply aren’t enough? Does smoking make most people feel good? Or is it because it makes them look cool?
Probably, the reason why still a lot of Filipinos patronize cigarette smoking is that compared to other Asian countries, the Philippines has the cheapest cigarette at around P45 per pack. Unlike in Indonesia where a pack of cigarette costs around P200 or in Singapore where you can buy it at a much higher price of P400.
With the affordability of cigarette in the Philippines, everyone can really purchase it because its sale per stick is allowed or the so-called retail. In fact, even minors can readily purchase cigarettes in retail out of their baon. Even those who belong to the lower-income group can easily buy cigarettes from sari-sari stores.
These data and scenarios put the country in the top spot in terms of the most number of cigarettes smoked in Asia. Based on statistics from the Department of Health (DOH), Filipinos on the average are consuming 1,073 sticks of cigarette annually, posting a death rate of 10 Filipino every hour or a total of 87,600 deaths per year attributed to tobacco consumption.
DOH claims thousands of deaths every year are attributed to smoking but the government does not report about other causes of death from other vices. Why is this so? Because tobacco causes 35 percent of all lung diseases, 26 percent of all cancers and 11percent of all heart diseases and stroke. Dr. Maila Rostrata of DOH Central Luzon said smoking is very special because out of all the risk factors, this is the only one which has firsthand, secondhand and thirdhand effects.
In addition, unlike alcohol consumption where there is moderate drinking, there is no such thing as moderate smoking, because it affects not only the smoker but also the people in his or her immediate surroundings.
This concept is best exemplified by the story told by Dr. Rostratare: “A guy, who works as a singer in a casino, swears that he doesn’t smoke but since the casino is not a smoke-free environment, he is exposed to the smoke from the clients. He is considered a secondhand smoker.”
Another problem is that the youth are now exposed to e-cigarette or the electronic nicotine delivery system. Sadly, more youth are exposed to this e-cigarette because this is not categorized as a tobacco product. However, studies reveal that those who use this as an alternative gets the same effect as that of smoking cigarettes.
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