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From government’s point of view, the ideal excise tax on sin products is an ad valorem or a percentage tax of the manufacturing price of a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of beer or whiskey.  Failing that, it can accept a specific tax on these products indexed to the inflation rate.  Of course, it goes without saying that government will prefer the highest tax rate, be it specific or ad valorem.

Through  these specifications, government can collect the maximum possible sin tax revenues.

Additionally, the national government believes that high sin tax rates will dampen consumption and consequently have positive effects not only on people’s health.  It could also improve peace and order and reduce crime rates.

Department of Health (DOH) seal

What about the tax preferences of the manufacturers of sin products?  Of course,  they will prefer low rates; specific rather than ad valorem; and unindexed (to inflation) tax rates.  Low tax rates will ultimately lead to lower prices of sin products which will ultimately mean greater demand for the same.  Nonetheless, the demand for sin products is generally inelastic–meaning demand for the same is not very sensitive to changes in product prices except in the long run.  Some tax experts report that beer is the most inelastic among alcoholic beverages while others opine that the nicotine content of cigarettes make demand for tobacco products also inelastic.

Local sin product manufacturers have predictably opposed the government-proposed 1000% increase in specific taxes on beer and alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.  The huge increase is proposed given the relative freezing of specific tax rates since 1996.  The tax law approved at the time did not approve indexation to inflation of the tax rates and provided only for minimal tax increases.

 

San Miguel beer

How will consumers of sin tax react to government’s tax proposals?

Filipino beer drinkers

It does not take one to be a rocket scientist to figure out that consumers will oppose government’s plans.  In his column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday, Prof. Cielito Habito pointed out that the poor consume sin products in a greater proportion compared to middle income and rich people.  Thus, they will oppose increases in tax rates that translate into higher retail prices.  

Colt 45, one of the beer brands of Asia Brewery Inc.

And higher retail prices for these ‘indispensable’ products means lower real incomes for the poor.

This might not register well with a public already reeling with high prices of oil products and an increase in transport fares.  

What we have here is a case where the interests of sin tax manufacturers and consumers largely coming from the ranks of the poor are aligned and ranged against that of government.

Obama and Noynoy smoking

It is incumbent upon government to gather political support for its tax plans within and without Congress.

 

Will it be a good idea to appeal for support from the wives and children of smokers and drinkers who may be concerned about the health of their relatives?  To those who are worried that  the money  spent for sin products is money that should spent for the dining table and other household necessities?  Or will that be seen as an invasion of privacy and curtailment of individual freedoms? Or will it encourage strife within households?

Will examples from role models help?

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