WHO supports higher tobacco taxes in the Philippines, expresses concern about upcoming tobacco exposition

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, expresses "full support" for the Philippines Department of Health's efforts to raise tobacco taxes and prices.

"Higher cigarette prices would discourage young people from starting and encourage smokers to quit," Dr Shin says.

Australia recently passed legislation to increase the cost of a pack of 30 cigarettes to US$ 19.

WHO advocates a tax of at least 70% of retail price. In the Philippines, the tax on the most-sold brand is only about 22%.

Cigarettes sold in the Philippines are among the cheapest in Asia. The most popular brands cost an average of less than 50 cents [US$ .50] per pack. By contrast, in the Lao People's Democratic Republic cigarette prices recently doubled to about one US dollar per pack. In Malaysia, cigarettes cost three US dollars per pack. The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in Hong Kong (China) is six US dollars and nine in Singapore.

"For a half century, the scientific community has generated solid and robust evidence to show how smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke directly harms health," Dr Shin says. "We know that second-hand smoke contains not just nicotine and tar but more than 7000 other chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. WHO has a very clear stance on tobacco control and is determined to help governments protect the health of their people.

"We realize that developing strong tobacco control policies is not simple. Nevertheless, we know that the restructuring of tobacco prices and taxes in the Philippines would significantly reduce tobacco consumption and prevent unnecessary suffering and death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, and such chronic respiratory diseases as emphysema, which, with diabetes, are now the leading causes of illness and death in the country."

Dr Shin also supports efforts to use a percentage of the proposed tobacco tax increase for health.

"We support the position of the Department of Health to use a percentage of tobacco taxes for health care, including health promotion and tobacco control," he says. "This would be a big boost for the government's universal health care agenda. Other countries, like Australia, the Republic of Korea and Thailand, have successfully demonstrated how tobacco taxes can be used to support social development initiatives."

At the same time, Dr Shin expresses concern about reports of increasing promotion of tobacco products in the Philippines.

"WHO has noted that an aggressive public relations campaign is in motion in relation to the Protobex Asia and Inter-Tabac Asia 2012 tobacco industry exhibitions that are to take place in Manila this month," Dr Shin says. "As a Party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Philippines is obligated to completely ban tobacco promotion, advertising and sponsorship. These events provide a platform for the industry to promote a deadly product in the Philippines and throughout Asia. We are deeply concerned about these events and how they could undermine the Department of Health's advocacy for tobacco taxes in the Philippine legislature. Promotion of tobacco products at this sensitive stage of the policy debate could be detrimental to achieving public health goals. We have officially transmitted our concerns on this matter to the Department of Health."

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey points to high smoking prevalence rates among both Philippine men (47.7%) and women (9.0%). There are an estimated 17 million smokers in the Philippines. An average of 10 Filipinos die from a tobacco-related disease every hour.

For more information

Dr Susan Mercado
Team Leader, Tobacco Free Initiative
Tel: +63 2 528 9894
E-mail: mercados@wpro.who.int

Dr Soe Nyunt-U
WHO Representative in the Philippines
Tel. +63 2 528 9761 or +63 2 338 7479
E-mail: who.phl@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel: +63 2 528 9992
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int

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