Sin Tax-style Cooperation among Policymakers Boosts Philippines Tobacco Control
The Philippines’ Sin Tax Law is not just one of the most important tax reforms of the past decade, but is testimony to the promise of stronger collaboration between the health and economic sectors in efforts to lessen cigarette smoking.
This is one of the main conclusions of a new policy study on “The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in the Philippines”launched late this week in Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
Bringing together an international research team – including Jenina Joy Chavez from Action for Economic Reforms (AER), Jeffrey Drope (PhD) from the American Cancer Society, Raphael Lencucha (PhD) from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine, and Benn McGrady (PhD) from the O’Neill Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center – the study probed the linkages between Philippine public health and economic policies in realizing tobacco control objectives affirmed in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
“The experience of passing the sin tax law in 2012 reveals that active collaboration between health and economic authorities, as well as civil society, is key to overcoming obstacles to the attainment of tobacco control policies in the Philippines,” said Jenina Joy Chavez, a trustee of AER.
“However, in assessing the interactions between Philippine public health measures and economic policies, especially in areas of trade, investment and intra-agency cooperation, we find that there are numerous challenges that oftentimes make it hard to reconcile both health and economic goals in various government agencies’ agendas,” Chavez added
“For instance, most health officials interviewed for the study were not well-informed about trade, investment or tax policies and goals, while most economic officials lacked a sufficient understanding of health policies and goals,” she said.
Among the findings arrived by the policy report, through both a survey of official documents and existing literature, as well as interviews with 37 key informants from various sectors, were:
· Though it is unlikely that lowering tariffs through new Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) will stimulate demand for tobacco products, given the country’s already very low tariffs on cigarette imports, these FTA’s may place additional legal constraints on the Philippines’ ability to implement tobacco control measures, such as tobacco plain packaging
· The granting of fiscal and investment incentives, such as tax holidays, to foreign tobacco investors is likely to lower production costs, and increase smoking consumption if savings are passed on to consumers
· Inter-agency arrangements to implement the WHO-FCTC must categorically exclude industry representation; such arrangements with a strong industry presence and uncommitted economic agency leadership may actually constrain the work of tobacco control proponents
· International economic disputes, like the Philippine dispute at the World Trade Organization about taxes on distilled spirits, may provide political opportunities for improved domestic and international public health policies
“While these and other conclusions suggest that there is some potential for conflict between economic and tobacco control policy agendas, our study also shows that better information-sharing mechanisms, coordination, and understanding among officials of their counterparts’ objectives could enable the crafting of policies that best fulfill both of these policy areas,” Chavez asserted. “The Philippine sin tax experience, in the light of this, is instructive, and could provide a platform for even stronger collaboration between the health and economic policy sectors in the years to come.”
The crafting of the policy report, “The Political Economy of Tobacco Control in the Philippines” was supported by a sub-agreement from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. Enditem