While many sectors have criticized President Benigno Aquino III’s recent state of the nation address, the health community were all praises for the outgoing leader for passing tobacco control measures his predecessors failed to enact.

“There’s no time in history than in the current administration that anti-smoking legislations were successfully passed by Congress and defeated the strong lobbying tactics of the tobacco industry. These laws are important to save millions of lives from the deadly effects of smoking and at the same raise taxes from tobacco to benefit the poor through health services and poverty alleviation programs,” said Emer Rojas, president of New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP).

Rojas praised Aquino for standing firm to defend public health from tobacco industry influence despite his personal battle with smoking. In 2013 NVAP expressed concern for the president’s health after he repeatedly coughed while delivering his SONA.

NVAP, together with other health advocates and civil society organizations, passionately fought to push for the sin tax law in 2012 ending three decades of impasse in Congress due mainly to tobacco industry influence.

Rojas said revenues from sin tax were able to improve health care financing and services that benefitted poor families and persons with disabilities. He said there are now more than 89 million Filipinos covered under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation as a result of the billions of pesos collected from the sin tax.

In 2013 alone or a year after the law was enacted, tax collected from sin products reached P41 billion exceeding the original target of P33 billion. This effectively increased the 2014 budget of the Department of Health by more than 50 percent from the previous year’s allocation. Thirty-five billion pesos went to PhilHealth to enroll more than 14 million indigent families.

“The sin tax also improved PhilHealth’s services with their Z-morph package benefitting cancer victims and PWDs through assistive devices such as prosthesis and other instruments,” said Rojas.

Rojas said another benefit of the sin tax was that it improved and expanded the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program which now finances 4.4 million poor families including 250,000 PWDs. On the other hand, P7 billion were also allocated from the sin tax to help farmers from tobacco-producing regions find alternative source of livelihood.

The NVAP leader also lauded the Aquino administration for the passage of the graphic health warning law in 2014.

“These twin tobacco control measures were vital in preventing deaths caused by non-communicable diseases that claim the life of one of four Filipinos who die before the age of 70. (From WHO data) NCDs include cancer which we all know claimed the life of the president’s mother, President Corazon Aquino. Championing public health through the enactment of anti-smoking laws is a legacy that the Aquino administration will be remembered for,” said Rojas.

He said the combination of the sin tax and the graphic health warning laws have encouraged local government units to implement tobacco control ordinances in their areas including the expansion of smoke-free places.