Which countries light up the most? The latest reports state that Serbia tops the world list with each Serbian smoking an average of 2,861 cigarettes yearly. Among ASEAN nations, Indonesia ranks the highest with 53.3 million smokers. By comparison, each of the 17.3 million Filipino smokers smoke an average of 838 sticks annually. Serbia and Indonesia have at least done something about their extremely high smoking statistics: both countries have implemented laws mandating graphic health warnings (GHWs) on cigarette packs. In spite of 240 Filipino deaths caused by tobacco daily, the Philippines still has not.
Indonesia recently became the 9th ASEAN nation to implement the life-saving measure, requiring picture warnings to be placed on cigarette packs, apart from textual warnings reinforcing the same. The enforcement of policies requiring GHWs on cigarette packs is an obligation of Parties under Article 11 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). Ironically, the Philippines is a state Party to the FCTC while Indonesia is not. Of all countries in the ASEAN, the Philippines and Myanmar are the only ones not implementing GHWs.
“The world was outraged when the videos of Indonesian toddlers chain-smoking came out, but at least now they are doing something to remedy it,” said Atty. Evita Ricafort, Project Manager at public policy NGO HealthJustice. “We have to build on our momentum and get this bill passed if we want to be credible as a rising nation.”
2013 marks the fifth year since the Philippines lapsed on its deadline to implement graphic health warnings. Previous efforts to require GHWs have repeatedly been blocked. In 2008, the GHW bill sponsored by Congressman Paul Daza was choked by pro-tobacco congressmen who were reportedly given P20,000 each to oppose the bill. In 2010, a Department of Health administrative order mandating GHWs was met by five different lawsuits filed by tobacco companies. Some of the cases are now pending in the Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, public health advocates are optimistic in light of the passage of the sin tax law. Health champions pin their hopes on the graphic health warning bill filed by Senator Pia Cayetano and co-sponsored by Senator Franklin Drilon last September, and on the counterpart versions filed by Representatives Marcelino Teodoro, Niel Tupas, Teodorico Haresco, and Raul Daza.
“As with the sin tax and RH law, government and civil society should work together to get this passed soon. The graphic health warning bill is a necessary complement to all other tobacco control measures,” said Atty. Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice. “GHWs will more accurately illustrate just how horribly your smoking will make you suffer in the long run.[ER1] They strip away any false notions of glamour that tobacco companies try to project onto their products.”