Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has rejected the plan of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to ban smoking in the country in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19, saying it could affect the P145 billion excise taxes remitted to the government and 2.5 million employed by the tobacco industry.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in a statement on Friday, cited that during the COVID-19 Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) team visit in Gen. Trias, Cavite on Thursday, Bello said the IATF originally planned to ban smoking but DOLE raised opposition owing to its serious repercussions to businesses and employment.
“We can’t ban smoking because it will adversely affect the tobacco industry,” Bello said.
Bello is a key member of the task force.
Bello said the tobacco industry remits to the government P145 billion in excise taxes yearly while employing 2.5 million Filipino workers.
It also contributes heavily to the Universal Health Fund of the government.
“If we ban smoking, those figures will be severely affected,” Bello said.
“[M]y job is to protect and preserve employment. To achieve that, I help shops to stay in business,” he said.
As a result of DOLE’s position on the matter, smoking is still allowed but doing so should be done individually in designated smoking areas.
“We can smoke in smoking areas. But the condition is one smoker at a time,” Bello explained.
Meanwhile, Bello continued extending the Labor department’s financial assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the pandemic.
Bello awarded 30 certificates of financial aid to OFW beneficiaries of Silang so it can help its troubled migrant workers.
Each certificate entitles an OFW beneficiary to a P20,000 initial capital for livelihood or business.
DOLE gave similar financial aid to 20 distressed migrant workers in Antipolo on Wednesday./Stacy Ang