tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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Smoking can reduce poverty, improve lives

Smoking can actually improve lives, although indirectly, contrary to the popular notion that smoking simply “kills.” Thus, if President-elect Noynoy Aquino insists on smoking in Cabinet meetings, while there may be truth to health advocates’ claim that his secondhand smoke can kill his Cabinet members eventually, in the immediate, his smoking can, in fact, improve the plight particularly of the poor.

If he raises taxes on cigarettes, that is, or at least improve the tax system by linking the tax to inflationary increases in cigarette prices. And why shouldn’t he? Like with most Filipino smokers, as evidenced by a survey a couple of years ago, one can suppose that Noynoy will not mind paying more for his cigarettes as long as the money will go to taxes rather than corporate profits.

On the administrative side, such taxes should be used specifically to improve either public health care through bigger and better hospitals and services, or public education through more schools and better programs. All for free, of course, particularly for those who have less in life, but not necessarily to the detriment of those who can actually afford health care and schooling on their own.

Viewed this way, then an extra tax on tobacco should not be a major concern at all, not for the government and for the public—not even for tobacco farmers. Anyway, whatever extra is paid for cigarettes will go a long way in making their lives better in some way or the other through improved public services. Even assuming that a higher tax on tobacco may slightly reduce their income, one assumes this will be okay if at least universal health care can be made free.

Obviously, tobacco should not be singled out. After all, what works for tobacco might work for alcohol, as well. Same arguments apply. And new tax rates need not necessarily be approved by Congress. Since taxes are based on prices, the tax system can be improved simply by ensuring that the price base goes up in sync with inflation. Then tax collection can presumably go up without raising the tax rate.

Sadly, while this sounds simple, this is very difficult to implement, as with most laws in this country. RA 8240, for instance, under its Section 6, already legislated 13 years ago the use of internal revenue stamps, whether of a bar code or fuse-on design, that will be firmly and conspicuously affixed on each pack of cigars and cigarettes, subject to specific tax in the manner and form as prescribed by the commissioner of internal revenue upon approval of the secretary of Finance.

That was 13 years ago, and to date no such system is in place! And just last week the Department of Justice came out with a legal opinion practically stalling present efforts by the government to implement this particular provision of the law through a proposed track-and-trace project. It escapes some why a legal opinion trumped legislation and thus practically subverted the will of Congress by executive fiat.

World Health Organization Country Representative Soe Nyunt-U was earlier quoted in a news report that raising cigarettes taxes would be a positive move, noting that excise taxes on tobacco in the Philippines were still very low compared with taxes in other countries. After all, “the important thing is not for adult smokers but for the children not to pick up cigarette smoking,” Soe added.

And in a recent public speech on funding for health promotion, outgoing Finance Secretary Gary Teves also called for broader support for an increase in so-called sin taxes not just for the additional revenues but because it would also serve the sumptuary objective of reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Quoting US President Obama’s speech to the US Congress about his health-care plan, Teves also said, “Put simply, our health-care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.” He also noted the first law President Obama signed when he assumed office imposed an almost 160-percent increase in tobacco taxes and earmarked the incremental tax collection for health insurance for children.

“We have been called a number of names in pushing for [tax] reform…. We have been called antipoor, insensitive and even antibusiness as we continue to stand by this proposal. While we acknowledge that tobacco control will continue to be a challenging task as long as smoking remains an absolute right of every individual, government and policymakers are not without means to address the health problems caused by tobacco consumption,” Teves said.

“Alongside supply controls are tobacco taxes, which are considered the single most cost-effective policy tool to reduce tobacco use. A study by the International Tobacco Evidence Network showed that a 10-percent price increase in low-income to middle-income countries like the Philippines could reduce tobacco demand by 8 percent,” he added.

He also noted that additional revenues from higher tobacco taxes, an estimated P9 billion in the first year and P23 billion in the second year, could significantly improve public health care and provide better social services to more people. That is, if the tobacco industry, smokers, President-elect Aquino and Congress can be convinced to support tobacco tax reform.

By Marvin A. Tort
Businessmirror, 23 June 2010

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