Espinoza: Enforce No Smoking!

Free Zone

THE “sin” tax seems to have not been felt by the smokers because they still abound even in public places in the city where smoking is prohibited. To my friends who are inveterate smokers, beware because Finance Sec. Sonny Dominguez has appealed to the Senate to speed up the approval of the new “sin” tax reform law.

If passed and approved, the sin tax reform law would impose higher excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products. Meaning, the price of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks would increase. But the intention of the new sin tax reform law is to help fill the massive funding gap for the Universal Health Care (UHC) program. The UHC Law is a “first class” law, but it will only be a “third class” measure if implemented with insufficient funding, Dominguez said.

Secretary Dominguez pointed out to the senators that government funds are not enough to fulfill the financing requirements of the UHC law starting in 2020. He said that from 2020 to 2024, all the present sources of government funding can cover UHC at around P200 billion annually, while the cost of the program will continue to grow to as much as P1.44 trillion during the first five years of implementation. Wow, lots of money!

The funny thing though, if I may say, is that if the price of cigarette is increased by P60 per pack and alcohol by P40 per liter, then the outcome would be less consumption. With the increase in the price of cigarette and alcohol, only a few who could afford this luxury and this would translate to fewer sales and hence less income. So how would the government fund the huge requirement of the UHC law?

But if the intention of the Duterte administration is to stop, if not reduce smoking among men and women especially in public places for health reasons, then the higher price increase on cigarette and alcohol would perhaps work. Talking of enforcement of the policy on no smoking in public places, I was amazed during my last visit to my home province of Surigao del Sur at how the municipalities enforced the law.

Every town I passed by, from Butuan City to my hometown in Cagwait, I saw huge “No Smoking” billboards or road signs that say “This is a Smoke-Free Municipality,” with a fine of P1,000 for violators, an amount that is apparently not a joke. In my hometown’s popular White Beach on a Sunday, I didn’t see a single beach goer smoking, unlike in the past years where smokers are everywhere. A hometown friend, who now runs a rental business, told me that they police their place of business of smokers.

I love the no smoking billboard of Cagwait. It states: “The Municipality of Cagwait upholds the right of every citizen to breath clean air. ‘No Smoking’ signs in public places as per Municipal Ordinance 13, Series of 2016. Penalty P1,000.00.”

Can Cebu City replicate what the towns in Surigao del Sur had done with a non-smoker mayor-elect, Vice Mayor Edgardo C. Labella, at the helm? Cebu City, aside from the national law, has its ordinance that bans smoking in public places, especially in restaurants and bars, including private offices. But the enforcement of this city ordinance still leaves so much to be desired.

If the municipalities in the Province of Surigao del Sur were able to strictly enforce the law, I don’t see any reason why the highly urbanized cities and towns in Cebu could not do the same.

Are we to understand that the lackadaisical enforcement by the LGUs of the law in public places here in Cebu is aimed at helping the tobacco industry since more cigarette sales means more income for the LGU? I refuse to believe, though, that this is the hidden intention of the LGUs.


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