You might wonder why we, rheumatologists, are appealing to you to please support the proposal to increase tobacco tax. It is because we know that smoking increases the risk for development for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Buerger’s disease which afflict patients under our care. It is also associated with negative outcomes for most other autoimmune conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic pain conditions. We hope that Senate Bill 1599, proposing the increase of tobacco tax rate from the current PhP 30 pesos per pack to PhP 60 pesos and an annual increase of nine percent thereafter, would curtail the number of people who would be adversely affected by smoking.
The tobacco tax increase cannot be delayed and should be included in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) or in the package 1 of tax reforms being deliberated in the Senate. We are alarmed that every year of delay will result in an additional 200,000 smokers who will be suffering from sure-death diseases. Based on estimates, the proposed increase will arrest the rise in the number of smokers and we will have one million less smokers at the end of the term of this administration. Added to this would be the multiplier effect of having less people exposed to second-hand smoke.
Further, the revenues from the increase in tobacco tax are needed to augment funds for unanticipated spending on universal health care (~PhP 65 billion for the medium term), even as the other funds raised from taxes raised under the present TRAIN bill would be necessary to other social service and infrastructure projects, such as free college education and the Marawi rehabilitation.
Your support of increased tobacco tax would be an affirmation of your concern for the health and welfare of our fellow Filipinos. Saving 200,000 persons from developing tobacco-related illnesses per year, saving on government spending for these diseases and providing for funds to ensure the wellness of all Filipinos through universal health care, is surely a good thing. We hope that you would seriously consider supporting this measure when sessions resume on November 13.
HEIZEL M. REYES, MD
President, Philippine Rheumatology Association 2016-2018