Solons defend smoking, drinking in ‘sin tax’ debate

Smoking as a mosquito repellant and drinking as the new “fountain of youth.”

These were justifications advanced by congressmen in debating the pros and cons of amending the sin tax law either by increasing the rates or re-classifying the brands of alcohol and cigar based on their current selling price.

Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong yesterday said he was forced to smoke cigarettes during his teen days to drive away the pesky mosquitos since his room has no airconditioning unit.

“Tobacco kept me awake when I was cramming for exams and drove away the mosquitoes since we have no airconditioning,” Ong said during the hearing of the House ways and means panel chaired by Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas.

Ong also said he doesn’t see any wrong with drinking as long as it is taken moderately just like his mother who lived to be 104 years old who drank their local brew almost on a daily basis.

The Northern Samar lawmaker is open to adjusting the sin tax rates but called for the creation first of a technical working group (TWG) that would consolidate all the proposed measures.

La Union Rep. Victor Ortega said that since the day he lit his first stick of cigarette 53 years ago, he did not go beyond 10 sticks per day to rebut a resource speaker’s claim that cigars and alcohol are addictive.

The guest doctor told the House panel that users are bound to increase consumption over the years regardless of the price.

Ortega nevertheless told the House panel that adopting a uniform tax rate would discriminate against local brands over imported sin tax products.

Quezon City Rep. Bingbong Crisologo, who originally comes from the tobacco region of Ilocos, said he has friends who did not smoke and drink but nonetheless died of lung cancer and liver ailments to rebut the link of smoking and drinking to health diseases.

Bohol Rep. Erico Aumentado said his proposal to slap an additional excise tax of 10 percent on alcohol and an additional P3 per pack of cigarettes would yield fresh revenues of P5 billion yearly.

Aumentado said of the amount of P2 billion will come from excise taxes paid on alcohol while the other P3 billion will come from cigarette products.

Mandanas said his bill version does not provide for an increase in tax rates in keeping with the Aquino administration’s campaign promise not to pass new or raise taxes.

His proposal is simply to change the classification of sin products by basing it on current selling price, which have been overtaken by inflation since 1996.

The House panel has decided to create a technical working group (TWG) to consolidate all the bills related to the sin tax law.

The previous government had abandoned plans to adopt a single uniform tax rate for sin products last year as it looks to 2012 as the most ideal year to implement the much long-sought revamp.

The four-year deferment was in response to the concerns of lawmakers and industry players on the adverse impact of pursuing a single sin tax rate amid the global financial crisis.

The Department of Finance (DOF) has been pushing for single uniform tax regime in lieu of the current multi-tier tax system.

Currently, the government rakes in a total of P50 billion a year from sin taxes collected on alcohol and tobacco, of which P47 billion is contributed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) while P4 billion is generated by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Under Republic Act (RA) 9334, the excise tax levied on cigarettes and alcohol products vary in rates depending on the price classification.  The higher the classification, the higher the tax rate. Dino Ng

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