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More than a tax measure

A NEW tax bill has been filed in Congress proposing to include in RA 8424, the National Internal Revenue Code of the Philippines, a R10 excise tax per liter of sugar-sweetened beverages, on top of the 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) that is now being passed on to buyers. The tax bill, filed by Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. of Sultan Kudarat and Rep. Estrellita Suansing of Nueva Ecija is among a number of tax measures expected to be part of the new administration’s plan for a more equitable tax regime.

More than a tax measure, the Suansing bill is a health measure aimed at curbing ailments linked to the excessive consumption of sugar in food and drinks. The proposed law would have the effect of raising the prices – and thus lessening the consumption – of beverages containing caloric sweeteners. These would include soft drinks, soda pop, sweetened fruit juices, coffee and tea products with added sweeteners, and energy drinks with large amounts of sugar.

A National Nutrition Survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute came out with a report in 2015 that one out of three Filipino adults are obese or suffering from excess weight and among the factors blamed were poor nutrition and insufficient physical activity. An official of the Department of Health said the aggressive marketing of unhealthy products in the food industry was a challenge. “The government must intervene to correct the current situation of the food industry’s failure in promoting good nutrition,” the official said. “Laws must be enacted to regulate the marketing of foods and beverages to children.”

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said consuming too much carbohydrates such as sugar significantly raised the risk of developing a lipid profile that increased the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Eating too much sugar is said to increase weight gain and overweight people are said to be more likely to suffer diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and many other health conditions. Sugar-sweetened beverages were said to be the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American diet.

These studies have affected our own efforts in the Philippines to improve the diet of Filipinos who have taken in a big way to fast-food outlets and to soft drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee, tea, and fruit drinks. The bill seeking to impose an excise tax on top of the value-added tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages may be seen as part of this total health effort.

The Beverage Industry Association of the Philippines has expressed its readiness to discuss tax reform plans with the government. The proposed tax along with research findings on ailments linked to highly sweetened goods should also encourage the industry to develop and market healthier products.