Tobacco use kills more than five million people per year. It is responsible for 1 in 10 adult deaths.
Every eight seconds, someone dies because of smoking-related diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and heart diseases.
Among the five greatest risk factors for mortality, it is the single most preventable cause of death. But, if the current patterns continue, tobacco use will kill more than 8 million people per year by 2030. Up to half of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers will die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease.
In the Philippines, 34.8% of our population is engaged in tobacco smoking. What is more disturbing is that children as early as nine years old smoke.
For every cigarette stick smoked, a smoker loses at least five minutes of his precious life and also endangers the lives of innocent people around him whose only fault is that they did not forget to breathe.
As Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography in the 14th Congress, I heard and then sponsored the bill mandating picture-based warnings on tobacco products (SB 2377).
We need the bill to deter new smokers, especially among the youth, try to lessen the urge of existing smokers, as well as implement our commitment under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which is an international treaty initiated by the World Health Assembly. It is the first global public health agreement devoted entirely to tobacco control to which the Philippines is a signatory and which was participated in by 192 countries.
The Philippines acceded to the FCTC in 2005 obliging us to comply with certain standards, such as tobacco price and tax increases, tobacco advertising and sponsorship, illicit trade and second-hand smoke. More importantly, the FCTC recommends implementing effective measures on packaging and labeling of tobacco products, such as the adoption of a picture-based health warning on tobacco packages.
I defended this bill on the floor and was hoping it would pass, but there was strong resistance from some senators. It was very disappointing.
Meanwhile, a similar bill filed in the House of Representatives was not prospering either, also due to the resistance of some lawmakers.
Soon after, then Secretary of Health Esperanza Cabral came out with DOH Administrative Order 2010-0013 which mandated that graphic health warnings be placed in tobacco packages in accordance with our obligation under the FCTC.
This was a move I fully supported and was happy to see implemented.
Unfortunately, the tobacco companies filed a petition questioning the legality of DOH AO 2010-0013 and seeking to prevent the DOH from implementing the same. An injunction order restraining the DOH from implementing the AO was granted by a Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan. Thus, the DOH filed a petition with the Supreme Court to question the decision of the lower court.
Former Health Secretaries Francisco Duque III, Jaime Galvez-Tan, Alberto Romualdez, Alfredo Bengzon and Esperanza Cabral, then filed a Motion to Intervene in the Supreme Court case citing that as former health secretaries, “it is our moral responsibility to continue to protect public health interest from an industry that fosters disease and death in its regular course of business.” They also said that “the meddling of the tobacco industry is preventing the DOH from carrying out its mandate to protect and preserve the health and lives of Filipinos.”
In April 2011, the Supreme Court granted said Motion to Intervene.
The mandate for tobacco products to bear graphic health warnings should no longer be a subject of great debate. Studies show that graphic health warnings are effective.
In Brazil, two thirds of smokers (67%) said the warnings made them want to quit.
In Canada, nearly half of smokers (44%) said the warnings had increased their motivation to quit. More than one quarter of smokers (27%) also smoked less inside their home as a result of warnings.
In Singapore, more than one quarter of smokers (28%) said they consumed fewer cigarettes as a result of the warningsand one out of six (14%) of smokers said they avoided smoking in front of children as a result of warnings.
In Thailand, nearly half (44%) of smokers said the pictorial warnings made them “a lot” more likely to quit over the next month.
Now in the 15th Congress, I have re-filed the Senate Bill No. 2340 or the “Picture-Based Health Warning Law”. As Chair of the Committee on Health, I intend to hold a hearing soon. I know the tobacco lobby is strong but policy makers and legislators should not hesitate to support policies and legislation that will promote the health of Filipinos. This is mandated in Sec. 15 of the Philippine Constitution which says that “the State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.”
Tobacco products have been proven to be hazardous to people’s health. The tobacco companies are not being prevented from conducting business. But since they are selling a hazardous product, they should be responsible corporate citizens and comply with policies that are pro-health.