Vital Strategies Pushes for Higher Taxes to Curb Smoking


On World No Tobacco Day, Vital Strategies reiterates its call for the Philippine government to pass legislation to implement higher tobacco taxes at levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Vital Strategies’ President and CEO, José Luis Castro said, “Graphic health warnings and the single, unified rate of tax on cigarettes have been positive steps forward, as have regional smoking bans, but higher tobacco taxes would help to deliver real reductions in smoking prevalence. While the uniform tax rate implemented at the start of 2017 was an important step forward, cigarettes are still too affordable in the Philippines. High taxes reduce the affordability of tobacco products in real terms and are the single most effective way of encouraging current users to cut down and quit while deterring the youth from initiating tobacco use.

This will help health, reduce the burden of tobacco-related disease on the Filipino health system over time and enhance development policies in the Philippines.”

To support the case for higher tobacco taxes and other policies to support tobacco control, Vital Strategies has worked closely with civil society to empower tobacco victims – who used to be heavy smokers - to tell their stories of how smoking has adversely impacted their health.

Atty. Franklin Gacal of General Santos City was the legal counsel of Pambansang Kamao Manny Pacquiao and also his chief of staff in Congress - before Gacal suffered a stroke, which left half of his body paralyzed. Gacal, now 56, started smoking in his mid-20s. In 2013, three decades of smoking and job-related pressures triggered a stroke. He now relies on a cane to walk and needs a personal assistant by his side 24/7 to undertake basic functions like walking and bathing. 

“I eat healthy. But what I did not pay attention to was the number of cigarettes I was consuming in a day. I thought it was helping me relieve stress, only to cause me troubles later on,” he said. Having experienced the real harms of smoking, Gacal, now a city councilor, has been advocating non-smoking policies. He has proposed a ban on the sale of “tingi-tingi” or single cigarette sticks, which make them more affordable to teens. He is also encouraging reasonable enforcement of the city’s anti-smoking laws.

“Smoking will do you no good at all. It will just make you sick. I hope people will find healthier ways to de-stress, and not rely on smoking. It is not only bad for your health, but of those who inhale secondary smoke,” said Gacal.

Like Gacal, Alex Tacadao of Aklan is paying dearly for a habit he picked up early. He has lost fingers and toes to Buerger’s disease, an illness known to be caused by smoking.

Tacadao started smoking at the age of 13 years old, copying his older cousins as he thought smoking was cool. He would finish one or two packs a day. By the time he was 21 years old, smoking had started to take its toll on his body. 

Tacadao still clearly recalls how he started to lose his extremities to the disease. What first looked like a round black wound that would not heal later progressed into gangrene, which slowly ate into the flesh of his finger, one after another. What he initially thought was a simple infection turned out to be Buerger’s disease.

He eventually had no choice but to have the affected areas surgically removed. Tacadao, now 52 years old, has lived for three decades without two fingers on his right hand, and also lost two toes on his right foot.

Working as a public information officer, Tacadao now shares his experiences to discourage youth from smoking, and convince those who are already smoking to quit. High tobacco taxes are proven to be particularly effective in helping to deter youth from smoking.

Tacadao’s story was turned into a public service announcement by anti-smoking advocates Smoke Free Philippines and Vital Strategies, and is now being aired in Aklan.

“I hope my story will make people stop smoking, and discourage our youth from starting to use cigarettes. Love yourself and your family, stop smoking!” he said.