Alcohol’s many health benefits
There’s something “wrong” in the way Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago justifies her sin tax proposal which received a full-page spread in Talk of the Town (Inquirer, 10/28/12). The senator’s article speaks of the “right to health” in justifying the hefty sin tax, but falls way short in explaining the hefty tax on alcohol. She errs in lumping the “sin” products tobacco and alcohol in the same breath as if they deliver the same harmful effects to the same extent. She reminds the reader of the meaning of “excise,” and that excise taxes are meant to eventually remove the use of alcohol because they kill consumers. However, she fails to provide the basis of alcohol’s kill-rate among consumers, say on its effect on the No. 1 killer (not to mention Nos. 3, 5 and 6) of Filipinos. Clue: it is not lung cancer, which is ranked much lower at No. 11, according to World Health Rankings.
To want to “excise” alcohol by “sin-taxing” it to death fails to consider the cardio-protective health benefits alcohol provides against the leading killers of Filipinos. (Should we be reminded that the Department of Health has no effective program against CHD or cardiovascular disease?) Moderate alcohol consumption is linked to lower risk of CHD, which findings are supported by increasing knowledge about mechanisms on reducing atherogenesis and thrombosis, and of the numerous scientific reports that moderate consumption of “…alcohol consistently raises HDL in both animals and humans and that alcohol is a more important determinant of HDL in the population than are exercise or other lifestyle habits” (Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, MD, professor of Medicine and Public Health; director, Institute on Lifestyle and Health, Boston University School of Medicine).
Senator Santiago mentions the cost of treating smoking-related diseases, but fails to cite any numbers on the health impact of alcohol. Perhaps the numbers available don’t seem to support the higher tax, or they reflect that alcohol should, in fact, not be looked down derisively as a sin product subject to excise?
Heavy drinkers obviously should be advised to decrease their consumption, but to impose a higher tax on beer and liquor with the objective of penalizing even moderate drinkers may result in the increased risk of stroke and other complications of hypertension. In the Philippines where cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, taxing alcohol consumption because of Congress’ erroneous view that it generally results in adverse effects on health is detrimental to the best health interests of the drinking public.
Thus, we go back to Santiago’s statement that “unlike ordinary citizens, Filipinos who are members of Congress are not free to ignore the present disastrous chain of circumstances.” It seems to me Sen. Ralph Recto is the only one not ignoring the current truth about the cardio-protective effect of alcohol which explains the low tax rate in Recto’s sin tax bill.
—ALBERTO RIVERA, Ph.D.
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