Increase Cigarette Taxes to Control Smoking - Honasan

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Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order, Safety, and Illegal Drugs, yesterday urged the government to exercise its taxation powers on cigarettes to "willfully control smoking, particularly among the youth."

Honasan called for legislation of "sky-high" taxes on tobacco products to reduce consumption of cigarettes and pave way for the improvement of public health.

"The R26-billion cigarette tax collection is not enough to cover the R46 billion in losses due to smoking. The full measure of government's taxation powers should be brought to bear on cigarettes, if we are to discourage consumption and reduce in a big way the public health risks and costs associated with smoking," Honasan said.

The senator said the R26 billion in annual government revenues from cigarette taxes is not even enough to cover the health-care spending and productivity losses associated with smoking, which the Department of Health (DoH) estimates at R46 billion yearly.

DoH studies show that some R27 billion is spent every year for the health care of patients with lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, and cerebrovascular disease.

These diseases are the four major tobacco-related ailments, Honasan said.

"Another R18 billion is lost every year due to the early deaths of these patients, while almost R1 billion is lost due to absenteeism from work of people with such diseases."

Congress should stop treating cigarette taxation as a simple revenue-generating initiative and start to regard it as a high-priority public health protection measure. Honasan said.

"In the past, cigarette taxes were raised not because Congress wanted to boldly fight smoking, but because government desperately needed new money. In fact, the last time Congress moved to raise cigarette taxes was at the height of the fiscal crisis in late 2004," he said.

"Congress should not care if cigarettes are taxed to a point where consumption declines considerably, and government revenues decrease as a result. …