DEPARTMENT OF Finance (DoF) officials expressed skepticism about the government’s ability to curb salt consumption via taxation, and said the problem might be better addressed via health education.

“We are studying it but it seems that the best way to do it is through regulation. Promotion of the health aspects, and not from taxation,” Undersecretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said in a media seminar on tax reform in Tagaytay City Friday.

The government is studying a Department of Health (DoH) proposal to discourage excessive salt consumption, possibly with a tax regime that adds to the cost of buying salty food, an approach that has been applied to sweetened beverages.

“We have a technical working group to study this idea further,” he added. The TWG has representatives from the DoF, the DoH and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito G. Lambino II said the TWG was created shortly after the release of a World Health Organization finding that Filipinos consume more than double the daily recommended intake of about five grams.

Products made with salt are more difficult to regulate at factory level than sweetened beverages, whose exact formulations are registared with the government. Many salty products are also made by small businesses. Salty foods like dried fish are also widely consumed by poor families, making such a tax politically sensitive.

The DoF has been keen to find funding sources to back Universal Health Care (UHC), which comes into force next year, and also to minimize the costs to the health care system from treating chronic diseases. So far the DoF has gone after sugary drinks, tobacco and e-cigarettes.

“What is our objective here — you know we have Universal Health Care but we don’t want to waste it treating preventable diseases?” Mr. Chua said.

The DoH proposal is not part of the administration’s comprehensive tax reform program, but Mr. Chua said that in 2016, the DoF originally included unhealthy products in its tax plans.

“Our original proposal (in 2016 included) a health package, which covers unhealthy food and variants, like tobacco, alcohol, sugar beverages and, as we mentioned, junk food.”

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, or Republic Act No. 10963, introduced excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The government also passed RA 11346, which increased the excise tax on tobacco products and introduced levies on electronic cigarettes.

The 18th Congress is currently tackling measure which will further increase rates on tobacco products, e-cigarettes and other vapor products as well as alcohol products. — Charmaine A. Tadalan