Consumer group Rights Action Philippines (RAP) yesterday expressed support to measures calling for stronger penalties and fines to those who commit tobacco smuggling.
Rey Dulay, RAP president, in a statement, said Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 (House Bill 3917 and Senate Bill 1812) will strengthen Republic Act (RA) 10845 classifying large-scale smuggling of commodities such as sugar, corn, pork, and vegetables as economic sabotage, with a minimum penalty of P1 million and imprisonment of not less than 17 years.
HB 3917 and SB 1812 expand the coverage to include raw and finished tobacco in the list of agricultural products.
HB 3917 was passed by an overwhelming 225 votes in the lower chamber in December 2022. SB 1812 advocates the passage of the bill in the Upper House.
Dulay was particularly concerned over what he called as “the massive smuggling and distribution of illegal tobacco products” as this “goes against the rights of consumers against unsafe products and deceptive business practices.”
“It is damaging the government’s national health agenda of curbing tobacco use among Filipinos, especially the youth, since it allows easier access to cheap and sub-standard tobacco products,” Dulay said.
Smuggled cigarettes cost as low as P30 to P35 per pack, making it easier for minors to buy. Compared with legal, tax-paid cigarettes which sell for over P100 per pack. Onsite and online, many retailers carrying illegal tobacco products are found to sell to minors.
Dulay cited studies which have shown smuggled and illegally manufactured cigarettes have more chemicals and have been found to contain insect parts, rat droppings, and even human waste since there is no quality control.
RAP said estimated revenue losses from tobacco smuggling range from P60 billion to P100 billion yearly. Revenues from the tobacco industry fund the National Health Insurance Program.
RAP also cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) which showed over 17 million Filipinos are “engaged in agricultural activities.” The National Tobacco Administration estimates that 2.2 million people depend on the tobacco industry, while data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration indicate that around 6 million are indirectly employed by the sugar industry.