Manila: After imposing taxes on sugary drinks, the Philippines may impose taxes on food with high salt content, to curb certain diseases, officials say.

According to the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for a large part of health costs for Filipinos.

A survey conducted in 2015 found that the average daily salt intake of Filipinos is more than double the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Coupled with this is the fact that 43 per cent of adults are not sufficiently physically active, with women at higher risk of physical inactivity than men.

“Unhealthy choices such as these increase the risk of multiple forms of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases as well as negatively impacting blood pressure, body weight, blood sugar levels and blood lipids. However, through increasing awareness and modifying behaviors, NCDs are largely preventable,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

Duque said that such risks could be lowered by taxing food with high salt content — like the government did in 2018, when it adopted the law that imposes higher taxes on drinks and beverages with high sugar content such as soft drinks.

“The same strategy might work also for excessive consumption of salt, we did the same thing for taxing sugars and beverages so it might be the most effective way to go,” he said.

“Consuming salty food is just too much, and it’s already proving to be of negative consequence and impacting on the health of our people. That’s really a cause for concern,” Duque said.

However, not everyone agrees with the plan to tax food with high salt content.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said imposing higher taxes on such food items could hit hard on the common folk, whose typical diet involve consuming dried fish, a commodity which has a good shelf life because its high salt content aids in preventing spoilage.

Filipinos love eating “daing” and “tuyo” also because it is affordable.

Lacson said if government plans to tax “tuyo” and “daing” it should think twice because such a move will put the poor at a further disadvantage.

“There are many health hazard foods on the table of the rich and affluent, they should set their sights on taxing those,” Lacson said.

Representative Bienvenido Abante, the House Minority Leader, likewise said that taxing dried fish would be putting more burden on the shoulders of the poor.

“Doesn’t our Cabinet Secretaries have better things in mind than to tax the poor more,” he said.

On the other hand, the Department of Health said reducing the salt content on food that Filipinos eat could save 164,251 lives during a 15-year period.