Philippines - new president smokes but this should not slow tobacco prevention activities..

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June 4, 2010 - Philippines - Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will officially be the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines by June 30, 2010.

President Aquino is a smoker. World Health Organization-affiliated Tobacco-Free Initiative (T-FI), which stressed that every smoker's "right to privacy in dealing with quitting [the habit] needs to be respected." "This is as true of Noynoy Aquino as it is of everyone else," T-FI said in a statement. T-FI noted that the senator was "a smoker like 17 million other Filipinos." "Like others who were born in the 1960s, he grew up in an environment where smoking was the norm – even among role models like priests, doctors, businessmen, scientists, scholars, actors, and athletes," the organization said.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has urged Aquino to quit smoking, saying it will be an "excellent demonstration of leadership by example." Cabral also urged Aquino to make good on his pre-election promise to kick his nicotine habit.

Whether he quits or not the new president should move to raise taxes on cigarettes, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said. Raising taxes on tobacco would discourage children from taking up the habit, said Dr. Soe Nyunt-u, the Philippine representative of the World Health Organization (WHO). The important thing is not for adult smokers but for the children not to pick up cigarette smoking," he said in an interview.

He added that the Philippines is one of the countries with very low excise tax rates on tobacco. "If the government can increase tobacco taxation, the resources they will generate will be sufficient to invest in achieving the Medium-term Development Goal targets," Soe said. The WHO is studying a proposal that, if approved, would impose a "simplified tax system" for the Philippines.

The plan would charge a P5 (0.11 USD) tax on every package of cigarettes sold in the country. Moreover, the tax would increase by P5 every year, he said. Taxes charged on low-end cigarette brands reach P2.47 (0.05 USD) per pack while some P27.16 (0.59 USD) are imposed on high-end brands.

The WHO is also pushing for the graphic or picture-based warning signs on cigarette packs. (Philippines - Department of Health wants health warnings on cigarette packs within 90 days..) It also plans to disallow the sale of cigarettes per stick to further encourage smokers to quit.

References: Ease up on Aquino, anti-smoking group asks, by Jerry E. Esplanada, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5/28/2010; WHO: It's up to Noynoy to quit smoking but he should raise tobacco taxes, RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV, 6/3/2010.

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