SWS survey: Youth, poor smoking less

Mara Cepeda

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SWS survey: Youth, poor smoking less
The number of smokers from the poorest Filipinos drops from 38% in December 2012 to 25% in March 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Smoking among the very poor and the young decreased in the first quarter of 2014, a study conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed.

The number of smokers from the economic class E or the poorest went down from 38% in December 2012 to 25% in March 2014.

Similarly, young Filipinos are smoking less, with 18% of smokers coming from the 18- to 24-year-old age group. In December 2012, the number stood at 35%.

Despite the reduction among population subgroups however, the overall smoking prevalence in the Philippines went down from 29% in 2012 to 26% only in 2014.

The nationwide survey of 1,200 respondents was conducted from March 27 to 30, 2014. Results were presented during a press conference at the Department of Health (DOH) held on Friday, May 30, the eve of the World No Tobacco Day.

Sin tax

During the forum, DOH Undersecretary Nemesio Gako said the figures are a testament to the initial success of Republic Act 10351 or the sin tax law, implemented starting January 1 of 2013.

It imposes higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol products, overcoming a strong industry lobby that kept prices in the Philippines among the cheapest in the world.

“As you can see, the initial findings of the survey showed that there was a reduction in the use of tobacco among the poor and the young. 18 years old to 24 years old and [smokers hailing from] class E, these are the targets of our campaign,” Gako said.

“Yes, we have achieved our purpose and the initial findings are very promising that we can attain [our target],” he added.

However, Gako acknowledged that “it will take some time” before the sin tax law will be fully implemented in the country, one reason being, the availability of less expensive tobacco brands.

According to the survey, 45% of Filipinos switched to a cheaper brand of cigarettes when prices increased.

Per stick

67% of smokers, meanwhile, purchase cigarettes per stick. This is a cheaper option than buying per pack, with the median price of cigarette sticks in the Philippines pegged at P3 each.

The SWS also showed that 53% of Filipinos believe that the main purpose of the sin tax law is to reduce the number of people who smoke. 66% also believe that the current prices of cigarettes should be increased further.

The forum marked the official Philippine celebration of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World No Tobacco Day, normally commemorated every May 31. The theme for this year is, “Raise taxes on tobacco.”

“It is great that we are ahead of the curve here in terms of celebrating that,” said Dr Julie Lyn Hall, WHO representative to the Philippines.

According to her, the early celebration is “very indicative of what the Philippine government is doing with the introduction of the sin tax law.”

“It’s about getting these curves right. You increase the price of tobacco, you will decrease the number of people smoking, and you will decrease the number of deaths,” Hall said.

According to her, raising taxes on tobacco is the most effective policy to reduce tobacco use. In particular, she said they want to price cigarettes out of the reach of young Filipinos because “tobacco is a killer.”

Hall said, “The sin tax law that was passed is a very great and very important piece of legislation. It will save lives but it will also raise taxes that can be used for health benefits for all and particularly, the poor.”

A win-win solution

At the press conference, Finance Undersecretary Jeremias Paul said that sin tax reform is a “win-win for all.”

Relaying the figures that were presented to the Senate during the Joint Congressional Oversight Meeting on the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program on March 12, Paul said that the DOH budget increased significantly, up over 57% over 2013 levels.

In terms of health, Paul said that cigarette removals went down by 16%.

14.7 million families in early 2014 were also able to enroll in Philhealth, 10.5 million more compared to last year.

“[The sin tax law is] also a significant win for tobacco farmers because there has been a significant increase in earmarks for tobacco growing regions,” Paul said.

He continued by saying that the sin tax law is a win for the government as well. The projected incremental revenue for sin products in 2013 was at P34 billion, but the actual incremental revenue reached P51 billion.

The press conference followed a call made by two senators earlier this year to review whether tobacco farmers and government health workers are benefitting from the sin tax law. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda is a Rappler intern.

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.