pop goes the world: killing you softly

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  22 November 2012, Thursday

Killing You Softly

We have known for decades that smoking and excessive alcohol consumption kill.

But despite near-constant bombardment with anti-smoking and moderate-drinking advertisements that have used all the persuasive approaches from soft-sell to fear-arousing communication, people still persist in the habit, making lung cancer and cirrhosis among the top causes of death in the Philippines.

A strong anti-smoking ad using FAC. Image here.

Now lawmakers have passed the “Sin Tax” bill that will raise revenue for the government while attempting to curb the health risks that go with the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 5727 last June, while the Senate, voting 15-2, passed their own version – Senate Bill 3299 – the other night. The versions will be reconciled in a bicameral session, after which the final version of the bill will be presented to the President.

The Lower House version would generate an additional P30 billion in revenue for the government from higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

The Senate version would harvest around P40 billion by imposing a unitary tax of P26 per cigarette pack by 2017 on a tiered rate increase scheme, while rate increases on alcohol taxes are to start next year, also on a tiered basis.

What would be the effect of higher taxes on these “sin” products”?

There is an infographic on the Internet that portrays likely scenarios based on a nationwide survey conducted by Laylo Research Strategies last August.

The poll findings show that 23 percent of Filipino adults smoke “regularly” (at least weekly). Of the Filipino adult population, only 4 percent of females smoke regularly while 42 percent of males do. Among the poorest – the Class E demographic – 27 percent smoke.

Should the Sin Tax bill be finally imposed, it was projected that 17 percent will stop smoking immediately, 31 percent will slowly stop smoking, 19 percent will buy a cheaper brand, 25 percent will lessen their consumption, while only 8 percent would continue the habit and to buy the same brand.

The infographic wound up with this takeaway: “…half of regular smokers will possibly quit their vice.”

Tobacco farmers and alcohol product factory workers descended en masse upon the Senate last Monday to protest the passage of the Bill, which they said would take away their livelihoods.

But SB 3299 has planned for that – it sets aside P750 million for programs to benefit displaced tobacco farmers.

Aside from P2 billion for tax administration, it also allocates P23 billion in health insurance for families, P750 million for an anti-smoking campaign, P100 million yearly for regional hospitals and medical centers, and P10 million for each of 618 district hospitals.

The Department of Health, under Secretary Enrique T. Ona, has programs for preventive health care that emphasize “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” Among these are the Violence and Injury Prevention Program (accidents being one of the top causes of morbidity in the country), National Dengue Prevention and Control Program, National STI/HIV Prevention Program, National Rabies Control and Prevention Program, and the Smoking Cessation Program.

For its part, government charity arm Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office gives financial assistance for the medical bills of people suffering from lung cancer and liver-related ailments.

So while the government earns from added taxes on smokes and drinks, it also spends on health programs that will alleviate and cure the illnesses caused by these products.

Would it not be better if people just quit smoking and avoided drinking to excess – or didn’t’ start at all?

Preventive health care helps preserve a person’s health and ensure a better quality of life by minimizing or reducing the risk of disease by avoiding possible risk factors that are under an individual’s control. Doctors have for many years been advocating lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding carcinogenic substances like tobacco and alcohol.

But it seems it needs this Sin Tax to break people of their smoking addiction. If the forecasts come true and half of all current smokers will quit because of the higher taxes on tobacco, then we should see a lower incidence of lung cancer in the coming years.

Smoking kills. This is not just a tagline, it’s the truth. We all know people – family, friends – who have died from lung cancer or emphysema. It’s not a good way to go – the oxygen tanks and plastic tubes up the nostrils, the strained and desperate heaving to catch another breath, the slow decay and rotting from inside over many agony-filled years.

Perhaps the Sin Tax will finally shake smokers from their fog-bound addiction to ditch the habit and adopt a healthier lifestyle to have more quality time to spend with their loved ones.

It’s about time, Philippines. Stop killing yourself slowly.  ***

“Smoke-free in Manila” image here.

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