Duterte Pushing for a Smoke-Free Nation

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“I have signed Executive Order No. 26 imposing a ban on smoking in public places to mitigate its consequences. We want to minimize access to tobacco products, and provide a more supportive environment for those who are attempting to quit tobacco use,” Duterte said.

HealthJustice Philippines, a think tank and advocacy group with legal expertise in tobacco control and health promotion, was quick to offer support to Duterte after he stated during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he would limit access to tobacco products.

“It is inspiring to be working with a President who values the health of our people. We assure him of our continuous support and guidance in minimizing access to tobacco. More

Tobacco Graphic Health Warning Now Hidden Behind Package

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Press Release:

 

MANILA, Philippines – On June 10, 2014, former Department of Health representatives, a former lawmaker, and public health advocates collectively denounced the tobacco industry for interfering in the Graphic Health Warning (GHW) bill. The press conference was urgently convened in response to the news that both houses of Congress will hold a bicameral conference committee meeting on the GHW bill that same day.

 

The Senate version of the Graphic Health Warning Bill covers at least 50% of the cigarette packs and has a clause that will allow the Department of Health, as the implementing body, to transfer the location of the picture to the top of the pack.  The lower House version covers 40% of the bottom of cigarette packs, with the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) as implementing body.

 

Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Jimmy Galvez-Tan stated that almost 90,000 Filipinos die annually due to smoking related diseases. He stated that the Senate version of the GHW Bill correctly mandates the DOH to be the implementing body. He reasoned that “the DOH is mandated to be the over-all technical authority on health. It is comprised of health professionals who can undertake further scientific and technical studies of the health impacts of tobacco.”

 

In response to the House version of the GHW bill, which mandates that the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) be the implementing for the measure, PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Atty. Alex Padilla, who was the former DOH representative to IAC-T, stated that “tobacco industry is not and can never be a stakeholder in public health.” He pointed out that the IACT “cannot be trusted” and that it has failed to champion the health of Filipinos given that its mandate is to “balance the interest of trade and health.” Since 2003, the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI) sits as a member of the IACT tasked with the implementation of Republic Act 9211 (Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003). Atty. Padilla pointed out that this enables various tobacco companies “to interfere in decision-making despite their obvious conflict of interest.”

 

Atty. Emil Polig, chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Legal Department, further added that the proposed GHW law should be enforced by the proper agencies in accordance with Republic Act 9711 (FDA Act of 2009), that is, the DOH and FDA, and not the IACT. He stated that the FDA “can use its powers under the RA 9711 to impose sanctions on violations of PHW law.” He recounted how various tobacco companies have filed over 12 cases against the government’s tobacco control measures, alleging vagueness of the law and excess of jurisdiction. He notes sadly that, “government and private individuals who have come head to head with the tobacco industry in court have not won a single case.”

 

Atty. Ipat Luna, Trustee of HealthJustice Philippines, stated that the tobacco industry has lobbied all over the world to put images at the bottom of cigarette pack, “where it can be easily hidden or covered when held.” She warned that if GHWs were allowed to be placed at the bottom portion, “PNoy’s administration will be remembered worldwide as the only one to have kowtowed to tobacco companies.” She reasoned that as long as the tobacco industry is empowered by this administration through the IACT, “the vision of ‘daang matuwid’ will not be fulfilled.”

 

Former Congressman Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, one of the authors of a GHW bill in 2007, recounted how tobacco company representatives approached him and other lawmakers to negotiate the contents of the bill. “We were outnumbered,” he said in describing the Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting that was populated by Congressmen from the Northern Luzon Alliance, who each took turn challenging the need for the bill.  The said bill was derailed by the Northern Block and was never passed by the house. Tañada testified that tobacco industry interference in the legislature is “very real,” and that there is a need to protect the bicameral meeting from it.

 

Bicameral meetings are held to reconcile conflicting provisions in a bill, after which, the final enrolled form is transmitted to Malacañang for approval.