ANTI-CIGARETTE smoking campaigners on Tuesday expressed support behind the latest push to enact a law mandating graphic health warnings on cigarette packs in the country.
They are pinning their hope, this time, on a bill filed last month by Sen. Pia Cayetano, a new version of her own graphic health warning bill filed in the Senate in 2008.
Members of 15th Congress are currently deliberating on the proposed “sin” tax bill, that aims to reform tax measures on alcohol and tobacco products.
It will be recalled that in November 2011, Liberal Party Reps. Niel Tupas of Iloilo and Raul Daza of Northern Samar, and Party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco of Ang Kasangga filed bill regarding this. In February of this year, Liberal Party Rep. Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina authored a bil requiring cigarette manufacturers to put picture warnings in the labels of their products.
“We hope that this time, lawmakers will be more sympathetic to our plight,” said Emer Rojas, a laryngeal cancer survivor and president of New Vois Association of the Philippines.
Rojas said more and more people are becoming cigarette smokers, if not already addicted to cigarette smoking which only proves that text warnings are not that effective in discouraging cigarette smoking.
“Picture warnings need to be implemented if we are serious about saving lives,” he said.
The group said past efforts to mandate picture warnings on cigarette packs have repeatedly been blocked.
The group believes that in 2008, the graphic health warning house bill sponsored by Daza was met with strong opposition allegedly by lawmakers who were bribed to oppose the bill.
The Senate counterpart bill filed by Cayetano was likewise not passed. In 2010, the Department of Health’s bid to implement graphic health warnings through administrative order was met by five different lawsuits initiated by tobacco companies; decisions regarding these suits are still pending in court.
Besides graphic health warnings, Cayetano has voiced support for the implementation of plain or standardized packaging that removes stylized branding from cigarette packs. Studies prove that plain packaging draws more attention to the picture warnings, particularly in the case of young smokers, the group said.
HealthJustice, a group that has been actively campaigning against cigarette smoking, said while graphic health warnings in cigarette packs have already been implemented in other countries, cigarette packs in the Philippines remain “attractive” because a law that will mandate tobacco companies to do it has not been enacted.
“Many countries have gone further than just implementing graphic health warnings. These warnings have become the norm everywhere else,” Evita Ricafort, a project manager at HealthJustice, said.
She cited Australia, that has implemented plain packaging measures apart from picture warnings already.
She expressed dismay that the campaign to implement graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is being met with resistance.
“It gets more frustrating when you realize that the same tobacco companies that are resisting the warnings in the Philippines are complying with them in their exports to neighboring countries like Thailand and Brunei,” she said.
For his part, Ulysses Dortheo, project director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance or Seatca, said pictorial warnings can effectively convey the truth about smoking harms than text-only warnings, and they negate the false glamour and appeal that the tobacco industry often tries to project through its promotions.
“More than 50 countries now require pictorial warnings on tobacco products, including neighboring Brunei, which earlier this month increased the size of its warnings to 75 percent of the front and back of packs. It’s time that our political leaders and legislators follow this lead to help smokers become fully aware of the health risks of smoking,” he said.