Death or (tobacco) taxes?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

They say nothing is certain but death and taxes. But what if I told you we can choose between the two?

Health Warrior

Yesterday, hundreds of Facebook users, myself included, added the “I’m a Health Warrior” frame to their profile photos. Medical society officers, government officials, health organization leaders, and even a former Department of Health (DOH) secretary joined the fight.

Health WarriorsJust a few fellow Health Warriors: Former DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial, University of the Philippines Executive VP Ted Herbosa, and PhilHealth Director Tony Leachon.

While I and my fellow Health Warriors fight for health in general, some of us are preparing for a major social media event on November 3, which we hinted at in our captions. On that day, we will be choosing between death and taxes.

A war is brewing, folks, and we will have to take our pick.

tobacco senators(Photo from Bawas Bisyo on Facebook)

Unfortunately, even when armed with a choice, not everyone will pick life-saving taxes over death. When a certain tax is so obviously good, we should ask ourselves why some people refuse to support it. And when those people happen to be public servants who swore to protect the public, it begs the question, will you still vote for them in 2019? (Like you, I want to find out who these politicians are, which is why I’m following Bawas Bisyo on Facebook.)


When health goes up in smoke

Five years ago, the Sin Tax Reform was signed into law. By increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol, it lowered the number of smokers from 17 million in 2012 to 14 million in 2013. Tha’ts three million less smokers in just one year! Whew!

Sin taxes also earned revenues worth P 331.8 billion in four years, earmarked for the DOH, PhilHealth, and tobacco farmers. This translated to better health care, especially for those who couldn’t afford it.

In a nutshell, sin taxes are working beautifully as a health measure. But not for long.

The effects of sin taxes for tobacco started to dwindle, with the number of smokers plateauing in 2015. Unless tobacco taxes are raised this year, there will be about 200,000 new smokers in 2018 and every year thereafter, according to projected estimates from the National Nutrition Survey.

These new smokers, by the way, just might be your children. Are you scared yet?


Ways and means for tobacco to win

Leaders from different medical societies, health organizations, and civic groups showed unwavering support for the Sin Tax Coalition’s initiative to raise tobacco taxes. These taxes have been proven in the Philippines and in other countries to prevent the youth from ever lighting their first cigarette. These taxes have been proven to be pro-poor and pro-health.

So when Ways and Means Chair Senator Sonny Angara was asked to include tobacco taxes in the tax reform under discussion, his approval was naturally expected. After all, he included many other taxes, none of which were based on evidence as strong as the statistics that supported tobacco taxes.

That was where things got interesting… and disappointing. When it came to the inclusion of tobacco taxes in the tax reform, Angara said no.

Yes to baseless taxes, but no to pro-poor, pro-health tobacco taxes? It does not compute.    
Sorry, dear senator, but you can’t cute your way out of this one.


Waging war

Shocked that Angara scrapped the inclusion of tobacco taxes in the tax reform until more evidence was presented (as if there was a dearth of evidence to begin with), health leaders decided to fight back. Last night, hundreds took the fight to Facebook and declared their warriorship.

Yes, there is a war whether we want to admit it or not, and if we don’t fight back, we lose. The price of losing: the lives of the people we love.

How many of you suffer health problems caused or aggravated by smoking? How many of you have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, or sons who have succumbed to death after a lifetime of nicotine addiction? Tobacco is never good for the health. Tobacco is taking the lives of the people we love.

Tobacco is everybody’s enemy. Shouldn’t we all wage war against it?

Tobacco is strongly linked to six out of the top ten killer diseases in our country, according to 2013 Philippine Health Statistics. We will lose P 210 billion each year because of tobacco, most of which will be spent on hospital expenses and medical bills, according to a 2015 study on the economic burden of tobacco-related diseases -- and this is just the money we will lose due to four diseases! Imagine the money we will all spend when our loved ones get any of the forty or so diseases linked to cigarettes!

Imagine our children learning to smoke because cigarettes are so affordable in our country. (We are among the countries with the cheapest cigarettes in the world.)

Imagine losing a loved one because of their addiction to cigarettes. (Yep, stroke and lung cancer sometimes come free with each pack.)


Be a #HealthWarrior!

Has your life been affected by smoking? Are you or a loved one a smoker who wants to quit but seemingly can’t?

Then, you’re a Health Warrior! Tell your Facebook friends about it in three simple steps.

1. Go to your Facebook profile pic and click "Edit", then “Add frame”.
2. Search for and use the "I'm a Health Warrior" frame.
3. Click "use". (You can also add a caption detailing why the fight against tobacco is personal to you.)

  Alternatively, you can get the Facebook profile frame here.


Where there’s smoke…

…There’s quite possibly a politician nearby counting his tobacco money.

And we’ve had enough of that.

On November 3, armed with our lived realities, I and my fellow Health Warriors will storm social media in hopes of urging politicians to include tobacco taxes in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN). We want to make our future votes count.

All eyes are on Angara. Soon, he will pick a side. What will it be, death or taxes?

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!