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Philippines’ government urged to move forward on a national smoke-free law and raise tobacco taxes

(March 2nd, 2017, Manila, the Philippines and New York, USA): Global non-profit organization Vital Strategies today congratulates the Philippines’ government on the first anniversary of the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco products. Vital Strategies also calls for the implementation of a national smokefree law and high tobacco taxes to encourage more tobacco users to quit. An executive order (EO) to ban smoking in public places currently is awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte. The proposed EO, which extends the country’s existing law (Republic Act 9211) banning smoking in public places, would further deter smoking and protect smokers and non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke. 

Vital Strategies’ President and CEO José Luis Castro said: “Public health is best served when a comprehensive set of tobacco control policies are enacted to deter youth from initiating smoking, encourage current smokers to quit, and protect the health of non-smokers who make up the majority of the population. Graphic health warnings and the single, unified rate of tax on cigarettes have been positive steps forward, as have regional smoking bans, but a national smoke-free policy and – critically – high tobacco taxes would help to deliver real reductions in smoking prevalence.” 

Castro further congratulated the Philippine government for resisting attempts throughout 2016 to delay and derail the uniform tobacco tax rate on cigarettes, which took effect January 4th after a four-year transition period. However, he also urged the government to pass legislation to implement higher tobacco taxes at levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“An effective tax strategy – including a uniform rate of tax on all tobacco products – can play a significant role in reducing tobacco use, especially among children and youth. But while the uniform tax rate was an important step forward, cigarettes are still too affordable in the Philippines. High taxes that reduce the affordability of tobacco products in real terms are the single most effective way of encouraging current users to cut down and quit and deterring youth from initiating tobacco use. There is a clear need to increase tobacco taxes to levels recommended by WHO and an opportunity, in doing so, to improve health and raise even more revenue to increase access to health care. We urge the government to grasp that opportunity. The combined impact of a population more knowledgeable about the harms of tobacco, a national smokefree law and high tobacco taxes would save thousands of lives and benefit the Philippine economy.”  

In a related development, Vital Strategies welcomed the Senate order for a legislative review on the impact of the “sin” tax law (RA 10351) on the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, as well as government revenues. The review is expected to take at least a year, as it will need to encompass the effectiveness of the new unitary tax rate in further reducing alcohol and cigarette consumption. Consideration of the controversial House Bill 4144, which prescribes a return to two-tier rates of taxation on cigarettes that are harmful to public health, is halted until after the Senate review. 

Note to Editors 

The Burden of Tobacco Use in the Philippines  

The Department of Health (DOH) has identified tobacco as the primary risk factor in the Philippines for a range of non-communicable diseases. This costs the Philippines’ economy more than USD3.95 billion (Php188 billion) (Dans et al., 2012) in health care costs and productivity losses.   

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, the Philippines (GATS), more than 17 million adult Filipinos smoke cigarettes. Almost half of adult males and 9 percent (2.8 million) of adult females are current smokers. Moreover, 23 percent of Filipino adults – 38 percent of men and 7 percent of women – are daily tobacco smokers.  

The Tobacco Atlas notes that tobacco causes 19.6 percent of adult male deaths and 9.4 percent of adult female deaths – higher than the average in other middle-income countries. It is estimated that more than 71,850 Filipinos – eight people every hour – are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year.  

The Philippine Cancer Society estimates that around 3,000 non-smoking adult Filipinos die every year of lung cancer as a result of inhaling second-hand smoke.  

When cigarettes are taxed at different rates based upon the size of the stick, the formulation of the product, or whether the producer is local or multinational, the tobacco industry can employ tactics to promote the continued use of existing products or to encourage people to switch to lower taxed products. The industry’s only goal is to sustain tobacco consumption and protect its profits, in opposition to governmental goals – detailed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – of reducing smoking prevalence and improving health.  

Vital Strategies supports tobacco control mass media campaigns in the Philippines 

Mass media campaigns are another proven way of reducing tobacco use. In October and November 2016, Vital Strategies supported the “Protect Your Family, Stop Smoking!” campaign, which aired on national television and provincial radio. These campaigns reinforce the messages that feature on tobacco packs as a result of the graphic health warning law (RA 10643), enacted in March 2016, which forces tobacco companies to put large graphic warnings, consisting of powerful, real-life images of tobacco-related disease, on 50 percent of the front and back of tobacco packs.  

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.