A signature campaign by local health officials in support of the passage of the so-called “sin tax reform bill” in Congress has gained some support from Cebu's business leaders.
Regional Director Dr. Asuncion Anden of the Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7) said they intend to lead the signature campaign in the region for the passage of House Bill 5727 into law.
“There has to be a citizen demand. We cross our fingers that it gets through the Senate. We were supposed to write a letter to all the members of the Lower House before the voting but lost time,” she said.
While business leaders see the bill as another revenue-generating measure, some caution that this may benefit duty-free shops who sell liquor to the detriment of local alcohol and tobacco producers.
“I think the tobacco tax was more necessary for health and government revenue reasons. The alcohol tax to me was unnecessary but it is significant and will also be good for revenues,” Cebu Business Club president Gordon Alan Joseph said.
Anden said campaign forms will be made available to hospitals, establishments and even media outlets for easy access to anyone wishing to lend support by signing up.
She said the DOH-7 is also encouraging volunteers to possibly man signature booths if they decide to put up in establishments.
With 210 votes against 21 votes, the “Sin Tax Reform Bill” or House Bill No. 5727 was approved in third and final reading in the Lower House last June 6. The bill has been languishing in Congress for the past 15 years.
Once approved into a law, taxes and prices of tobacco and alcohol products will increase with annual revenue income estimated at P33 billion for the government.
“If passed, the proposed law will be more prohibitive for the youth and the poor who comprise the majority of smokers in the country will be forced to stop,” Anden said.
Former Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) president Eric Ng Mendoza believed that airport duty-free shops will benefit from the bill.
“Travellers will avail of their travel duty free allowables for cigarettes and liquors,” he said.
New MCCI president Philipp Tan said he favors the bill which is similar to other laws in developed countries.
“This would discourage vices like smoking and drinking. Businessmen can make money in other products not necessarily on those related to vices,” he said.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona and former health secretaries Esperanza Cabral and Alberto Romualdez earlier called on to senators to vote for the proposed sin tax reform law for the sake of public health.
Prior to its final approval in the lower house, President Benigno Aquino III earlier certified the bill as urgent.
Anden admitted it isn't easy to erase smoking in the country especially since it has been around since time immemorial.
“Giving cigars and coffee used to be a gesture of hospitality. I remember my grandfather doing this to his visitors. I'm glad that this is no longer practiced here,” Anden said.
Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 prohibits tobacco advertisements.
But Anden said this has not been strictly implemented in the country including Central Visayas. /
Jessa J. Agua, Correspondent