Liquor, tobacco companies reminded of sin products' social impact
Before whining against the inevitability of higher taxes, Senator Pia Cayetano on Thursday reminded liquor and tobacco companies about the ill effects of what they’re selling to society.
"May [health and] social consequences itong mga sin products na dapat intindihin natin habang ginagawa natin ang sin tax measure na ito," Cayetano, chair of the Senate health and demography committee, said at the sidelines of Thursday's Senate hearing on the proposed sin tax reform bill.
The sin tax bill seeks to impose higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol products. It has passed in the House of Representatives.
During Wednesday's hearing, Destileria Limtuaco & Co. Inc. president Olivia Limpe-Aw said that they were more concerned about workers who might lose their jobs or whose livelihoods might get affected because of the new taxes.
She said they were worried not just about their own economic interests but also about the welfare of consumers, who may be forced to patronize smuggled products once they can no longer afford alcohol products and cigarettes in the mainstream market – sold by reputable companies – in once the reform bill is legislated into law.
"We're really just trying to produce products that are affordable to the market, because the purchasing power really is too low that we have kept our prices so low, we have kept our prices fairly constant," Limpe-Aw noted.
"It's a lose-lose situation for everyone," she added.
Health cost of easy access
Cayetano, however, said this was contrary to what government wanted to do.
"Isn't that what we must do if we are responsible citizens, that we do not want products that are not good for your health to continually penetrate the market at a growing rate?" she said during the same hearing.
The cost on people's health far outweighs the benefits of easy access to sin products because these are simply affordable, the senator said.
Apart from that, Cayetano said sin products bring dire social consequences.
"Gaano kahalaga ng pagkawala ng trabaho o yung pag-aabsent niya, pati yung second hand smoke sa kanyang pamilya?
“Lahat po yun may effect. Ano ang epekto sa isang kabataan na lumalaki sa isang bahay na may alcohol abuse?" she added.
Speculations that jobs would be lost should not hinder the sin tax measure’s passage, the senator noted, saying, "Hindi ho maganda na ginagamit sila [workers] na hadlangan ang pagusad ng sin tax bill.
"I will fight for the right of every Filipino, of every farmer, of every fisherman sa lahat ng manggagawa na ‘di mawalan ng trabaho – hindi natin intensyon na mawalan sila ng trabaho.
“The important thing is maging creative ang ating gobyerno to look for alternative work for them," she added.
Laos and Vietnam
For liquor companies, Cayetano said it was "high time" that they consider introducing other products into the market.
"What did they do in other countries? Food companies – those that are in the soft drink and the beverage industry – when they saw that there [was] a strong move towards healthier products, they shift[ed] their products," she said, citing the proliferation of lighter drinks and energy drinks.
"So, don't make that government's burden to make sure that your products – which are not healthy products – are accessible to the poor.
It's up to you to address that," Cayeta said.
But Limpe-Aw argued that the senator should not compare local rates with those of other countries, because markets abroad are different.
"We must drink responsibly, but we also hope you will tax us moderately," she said in jest.
Cayetano then cited the situation in Laos and Vietnam, where higher taxes are imposed on sin products.
"If they can afford to pay higher taxes… I think… we owe it to our people to do the same," she said. — VS, GMA News