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Philippine officials, advocates welcome Senate approval of "sin tax" bill for tobacco, alcohol

Cigarette vendor Rogelio Buenviaje, 64, carries a wooden box containing cigarette packs and candies as he walks along busy streets to sell his items in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP,Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine officials and health advocates Wednesday welcomed the Senate's approval of a sin tax bill after years of unsuccessful attempts to hike taxes on tobacco and alcohol. The higher taxes will raise at least 40 billion pesos ($1 billion) annually and help pay for better public health care.

The Senate approved the bill on a final reading late Tuesday, bringing it closer to becoming a law after 15 years of failed attempts to pass such legislation. President Benigno Aquino III had certified the bill as urgent. The Senate's bill will have to be reconciled with a version passed by the lower house.

Senator Franklin Drilon, a proponent of the bill, said a version acceptable to both legislatures may be ready before the end of the year.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the measure will bring taxes closer to World Health Organization and World Bank recommended levels.

The Philippines has among the cheapest tobacco and alcohol in the world. Strong lobbying from those industries derailed earlier attempts to raise taxes. Health officials say 17.3 million Filipinos smoke one of Southeast Asia's highest rates of smoking and 87,000 die per year of tobacco-related diseases.

Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the measure will fund universal health care and "is a vital step forward in improving and expanding public health safety nets for all Filipinos."

The bill mandates a gradual increase in taxes until a single tax of 26 pesos ($0.63) a pack of cigarettes is achieved by 2017, and a two-tier system for alcoholic drinks, Drilon said. Taxes to be collected will increase from 39.5 billion pesos ($1 billion) next year to 64.4 billion pesos ($1.6 billion) in 2017. Sixty per cent of the taxes will come from cigarettes and 40 per cent from alcohol.

Emer Rojas, a laryngeal cancer survivor who heads the anti- tobacco New Vois Association, said studies have shown that higher cigarette prices will reduce smoking in the country by at least 27.5 per cent and prevent millions from falling sick like him.


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