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December 17th, 2016:

Tobacco group trashes House sin tax bill

The Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) reiterated its strong objection to the House-approved bill proposing a huge increase in cigarette excise taxes while keeping the two-tier structure even as its president Saturnino Distor disowned press reports maliciously attributing to him statements supporting the measure.

“We have not changed our position. We strongly oppose House Bill 4144 as this will only bring hardship to the farmers still reeling from the huge tax increase in 2013,” Distor said in a statement.

“I also condemn the unauthorized use of my name and the attribution to me of statements that are contrary to my views. This is the product of malicious minds serving vested interests,” he added.

Distor was quoted in media reports as throwing his support behind HB 4144 in his capacity as the Pangasinan Chapter President of the National Federation of Farmers Association and Cooperatives. (NAFTAC).

He said he has not changed his position, which he publicly stated during the hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee last Dec. 5.

“Our position is stated in Congress and is a matter of public record,” Distor said.

In fact, he said he refused to sign a position paper supporting House Bill 4144 that was offered to him by the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) during the House committee hearing.

“I repeat, the tobacco farmers will bear the brunt of this bill,” Distor said.

Earlier, public health think tank HealthJustice Philippines accused legislators of railroading a bill that would allow cigarettes to remain dirt cheap in the Philippines, contrary to the Philippine health agenda and Duterte’s promise of a Smoke Free Philippines.

May Fernandez-Mendoza, HealthJustice president, said that House Bill 4144 was approved without amendment during second reading on December 5.

It sought a P7 increase in excise taxes to P32 and P36 from the current P25 and P29 with marginal increases of 5 percent per year instead of marginal increases of 4 percent per year based on RA 10351,the current Sin Tax Law which is scheduled to bring taxes to a single rate of P30 in 2017.

Rep. Eugene de Vera of ABS Partylist sponsored the bill which was supported by all those in the super majority.
Another bill filed by Rep. Joey Salceda pushed for P40 with P5 increase per year but this was not passed during the plenary hearing.

“There is an illusion of significant increase in taxes but in reality, this is a ruse to preempt ideal taxes for health that President Duterte, being a strong tobacco control advocate, is capable of calling for,” Mendoza said.

“If this is made in line with the Philippine Health Agenda to reduce harm from tobacco use, taxes on tobacco, should be at least P40, hence significant enough to discourage smoking and bring the Philippines out of the category of those countries having the cheapest cigarettes in the world. It should also call for significant annual increases,” she added.

In 2010, a HealthJustice study projected that, in order to achieve a periodic 10 percent reduction in smoking prevalence or save 200,000 lives annually and reducing 500,000 smokers annually, taxes should have reached a unitary rate of P30 by 2014, to be increased annually based on inflation and income growth.

“However, the deliberation of the Sin Tax bill went through a lot of compromises due to the tobacco industry lobby, and was watered down such that the rate of P30 would take effect only in 2017. To make up for the lost lives, we propose a minimum of P40 excise tax per pack as a starting point in 2017,” Irene Reyes of HealthJustice said.

Mendoza also pointed out that incremental revenues from any tobacco tax increase should go back to the health sector in the form of health promotion, to strengthen communities’ capacity to undertake health initiatives and to have healthy cities.

“Investments must be made to prevent Filipinos from getting sick,” she added.

“The price of cigarettes in Philippines is cheap. If we want to protect the youth, we need to break the P100 per pack price barrier,” said Dexter Galban of One for Nursing Empowerment, a group of nursing students from universities in the Philippines.

Internal tobacco industry documents show that the industry targets the youth as replacement smokers.

According to a survey HealthJustice conducted, the youth will stop smoking if prices of cigarettes are at P5-10 per stick or P100-P200 per pack. Price of a pack of cigarettes averages between P36-65 per pack in the Philippines while it is between P100-450 in countries that are committed to stop smoking, such as Thailand, Singapore, Australia, and USA.

It has also been established that smoking contributes to poverty. A 2008 DOH study shows that the total economic costs for the four smoking-related diseases were estimated at P188 bilion a year. The total collection from tobacco products averages at P120 bilion a year and an average of P 75 billion goes to health.

EDITORIAL: NJ giving up on smokers

Let’s just say New Jersey officials don’t care a whole lot whether kids in this state start smoking, or whether the ones who have ever stop.

That may sound a little harsh, but there seems little other way to interpret the fact that the state once again ranks dead last in the nation in spending on tobacco prevention.

The amount of money New Jersey devotes to the task? Zero. This is the fifth consecutive year the state has spent absolutely nothing to discourage smoking or encourage active smokers to quit.

New Jersey just seems to have a knack for ranking first or last in all the wrong categories.

For those thinking New Jersey just doesn’t have the money to spend, consider the state will take in more than $900 million in estimated tobacco revenue as part of the national 1998 settlement with Big Tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection annually recommend an amount that each state should devote to tobacco prevention programs. The recommendation for New Jersey in 2016 was $103 million. But not a dollar of that money has been set aside for tobacco prevention in the 2016 budget. Only Connecticut is similarly apathetic.

It’s also worth noting that Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a proposal to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

To be fair, we can’t say lawmakers have completely dropped the ball in combating smoking. New Jersey continues to make inroads in curbing public smoking, this year pushing through enhanced restrictions on beaches and state parks. While that legislation didn’t go as far as anti-smoking advocates would have preferred, the new restraints represent another step in the right direction. Federally funded anti-smoking programs are also available in New Jersey.

Through it all, something seems to be working, even if more or less by accident. Smoking rates are declining across the country, and New Jersey is no exception, despite the absence of investment in prevention. Both youth (8.2 percent) and adult (15.1 percent) smoking rates in the state are well below the national average.

But advocates warn that the lowering rates are insufficient reason to ignore continued and aggressive prevention efforts. The Tobacco Free Kids Campaign estimates that nearly 12,000 deaths each year in New Jersey can be directly attributable to smoking — deaths that are essentially being treated as irrelevant from a policy perspective by scrapping all prevention spending.

That said, New Jersey shouldn’t feel obliged to simply pour money into random smoking cessation programs to create the impression of renewed interest in the issue.

Some programs have more value than others, and officials should at the very least identify one or two areas to which some funding can be effectively deployed. While we don’t see a need for the state to suddenly ratchet up its spending to the levels recommended by the CDC, it is more than reasonable to expect some funding to be directed to saving lives.

France votes for plain cigarette packaging from 2016

Cigar ettes will be sold in logo-fr ee packaging fr om May 2016, despite objections from the conser vative opposition and tobacconists

Cigarettes in France will be sold in plain packaging under a law that was finally passed in parliament on Thursday despite objections from the conservative opposition.

Starting in May 2016, the brand name will appear but in a small, uniform typeface and packets will be shorn of logos.

With backing from the ruling Socialists and the Greens, the text finally came into law after mainly conservative senators added amendments to the draft that was first voted in April, which would allow the brand name to appear in small letters.

The senate had initially demanded that the neutral packaging clause be removed from the draft legislation.

Around a quarter of French adults indulge in the hazardous habit, according to the World Health Organisation, and one third of teenagers also smoke.

Nine years ago, France controversially banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants.

And only last month, Paris authorities doubled fines for dropping cigarette butts to 68 euros (£50/$75) in a city where some 350 tonnes of them are collected annually.

Last year, health minister Marisol Touraine estimated some 13 million people still light up in France and that smoking accounts for around 78,000 deaths, the leading cause of premature death in the country.

All cigarettes will from May next year have to be sold in neutral packaging of uniform size and colour in a move that is notably similar to legislation adopted in Australia three years ago.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have since followed suit.

Imperial stubs out plans for Supreme Court battle on tobacco packaging rules

Big Tobacco’s battle against the Government’s crackdown on cigarette packaging has taken a blow after a second company stubbed out plans to take its case to the Supreme Court.

The decision by Imperial, the ­maker of Gauloises and Lambert & Butler cigarettes, leaves just two of the big four tobacco companies still considering whether to take the Government to the Supreme Court over the rules, which came into force in May.

Since then, cigarette firms have been required to manufacture products in standardised “plain” khaki packaging sporting prominent health warnings. All tobacco products sold in the UK from next May must comply with the rules.

Imperial joins Philip Morris International in reluctantly accepting the tobacco branding crackdown after a failed court challenge in May lead to an unsuccessful legal appeal last month.

A spokesman for Imperial told the Sunday Telegraph: “We maintain our firmly held view that plain packaging is not an effective tobacco control policy but we have chosen not to seek permission to escalate our legal challenge in the UK to the Supreme Court.”

British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) will reveal “any day now” whether they will continue to fight the rules which came into effect in April, an industry source said.

But Imperial’s decision to walk away from the fight despite relying on the UK for around 15pc of its total earnings raises questions over the commitment of BAT which earns less than 1pc of its takings from Britain.

JTI also has a 15pc exposure to the market and has been the most outspoken against the legislation which its UK boss Daniel Sciamma has branded “commercial vandalism” which “sets a dangerous precedent for other targeted industries”.

Imperial said it plans to focus on maintaining its market share in the face of rising legislation and will invest more heavily in its specialist brands such e-cigarettes and non-tobacco vaping products.