For the lawmakers of the Bicol bloc, health is top priority. 14 congressmen from the Bicol region have joined together to file a strong graphic health warnings (GHWs) bill, which would mandate the placing of vivid picture-based warnings on cigarette packs.
Representatives Catherine Barcelona-Reyes of the 1st District of Camarines Norte, Al Francis C. Bichara of the 2nd District of Albay, Evelina G. Escudero of the 1st District of Sorsogon, Maria Vida Espinosa-Bravo of the 1st District of Masbate, Salvio B. Fortuno of the 5th District of Camarines Sur, Fernando V. Gonzalez of the 3rd District of Albay, Elisa Olga T. Kho of the 2nd District of Masbate, Edcel “Grex” Lagman Jr. of the 1st District of Albay, Elmer E. Panotes of the 2nd District of Camarines Norte, Deogracias B. Ramos Jr. of the 2nd District of Sorsogon, Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur, Cesar V. Sarmiento of the lone District of Catanduanes, and Rodel M. Batocabe and Christopher S. Co of Ako Bicol partylist comprise the current Bicol bloc, known for their past unified efforts in bringing development to their region, and to the country.
This is the first health bill to be filed by the Bicol bloc, and constitutes one of the strongest versions of the pending graphic health warnings bills yet. Further, it is the first bill to be filed by all the lawmakers from all of Bicol’s legislative districts. The Bicol bloc has put on a united front for the common goal of protection against the harms of tobacco. The filing of the said bill sends a strong message to the nation: these lawmakers are serious about health.
Entitled “The Picture-Based Health Warning Law,” the new bill seeks to require the placing of graphic health warnings on at least 85% of the principal display areas of cigarette packs, front and back.
The bill likewise requires at least 85% GHW coverage on any outside packaging and labeling of tobacco products, such as that of cigarette cartons, inserts, or onserts attached or affixed to the tobacco package. It also requires GHWs encompassing at least 85% of the cigarette pack’s side panels, and prohibits the use of any border or frame which could effectively lessen the size of the prescribed health warnings.
The banning of misleading descriptors such as “light”, “ultra-light”, “mild”, “extra”, and “ultra” is another salient portion of the bill. According to health experts, descriptive words such as these deceive smokers into thinking that cigarettes labeled as such expose them to lower risks, and that there are “safer” cigarettes being sold. A U.S. Court has already ruled that tobacco companies “falsely marketed and promoted low tar/light cigarettes as less harmful than full-flavor cigarettes in order to keep people smoking and sustain corporate revenues.”
“There is irrefutable evidence proving that all tobacco products endanger public health,” said Bicol bloc member Fernando Gonzalez. “We need strong health policies to effectively protect Filipinos against the harms that tobacco products cause. Good health is a prerequisite of development – and we will work hard to guarantee a healthy and progressive future for the country.”
“We must be as aggressive in pushing for health as tobacco companies are in pushing for their deadly products,” said Bicol bloc member Edcel Lagman, Jr. “There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Cigarettes have been proven to be the leading cause of preventable death around the world. These companies profit at the expense of the Filipinos’ health, and as lawmakers, it is our responsibility to safeguard our people from this kind of harm.”
Health advocates are grateful to find an ally in the Bicol bloc, and believe that it won’t be long before cigarette packs sold in the Philippines carry the required GHWs.
“We commend the lawmakers of the Bicol bloc for their effort to protect public health and for recognizing that Filipinos need to be protected against tobacco,” said Atty. Diana Trivino, project manager of public health non-profit organization HealthJustice. “More so, we are glad that they are fighting for bigger graphic health warnings on packs. Studies show that the effectiveness of the warnings increases with size, and that these kinds of vivid, picture-based warnings are most effective in deterring smoking among all socio-economic groups. We believe this is a step in the right direction, and we hope many more lawmakers follow suit.”
Support for GHWs has continued to grow in the lower house. Several graphic health warning bills have been proposed by Representatives Marcelino Teodoro of the 1st district of Marikina, Leah Paquiz of Ang Nars partylist, and Ibarra Gutierrez III and Walden Bello of Akbayan, the latest of which has been filed by Representative Edcel Lagman of the 1st district of Albay, which was filed on the same day as the successful public hearing of the counterpart bills in the Senate.
The body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of GHWs has grown considerably over the years. A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health proved that GHWs on cigarette packs are the most effective in educating all demographic groups about the dangers of smoking, cutting across race/ethnicity, income/socio-economic class, and all levels of educational attainment.
Apart from merely making an impact, more and more studies are proving that graphic health warnings actually work.
The Tobacco Control Journal reports that GHWs were responsible for reducing the smoking prevalence in Canada by as much as 12 – 20%. The Nicotine and Tobacco Research arm of Oxford Journal recently reported that graphic health warnings are the most effective in convincing everyone, especially young adults, not to smoke.