MANILA, PHILIPPINES —“Time’s up, tobacco!” said HealthJustice Philippines to tobacco companies. This warning was issued in connection with the scheduled meeting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) Committee of Republic Act (RA) No. 10643, otherwise known as “The Graphic Health Warnings Law.” HealthJustice is a public health think tank that aims to bridge the gap between health and law.
“Graphic health warnings” refer to the photographic images showing the hazards of tobacco use that will be printed on the tobacco product packages.
The IRR Committee met for the first time today at the Department of Health (DOH) Central Office to formulate and issue the necessary implementing rules and regulations for the effective implementation of RA 10643. The committee is led by the DOH and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and to be composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Finance (DOF), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Department of Education (DepED), the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).
“Since the law allows tobacco industry representatives to take part in the public consultations, we need to ensure that the IRR Committee is protected from their dirty tactics. Tobacco companies should not be allowed to interfere in the continuous implementation of the law, or oppose provisions meant to protect public health,” explains Atty. Patricia Miranda, Legal Consultant of HealthJustice Philippines.
RA 10643 mandates that the non-issuance of the IRR shall not prevent the law from coming into force.
The first IRR Committee meeting arrives on the heels of the release of DOH Administrative Order (AO) No. 2014-0037, a set of guidelines relating to the specific pictures, design, information that must appear in the tobacco product packages, signals the countdown towards tobacco companies’ compliance with the law. The DOH approved picture templates depict explicit images of people suffering from various diseases caused by tobacco smoking including stroke; gangrene; emphysema; impotence; mouth, neck, and throat cancers; premature births; and low birth weight in infants.
RA 10643 gives tobacco companies 12 months to manufacture tobacco packages bearing the warnings issued by DOH, and another eight months to exhaust all existing non-compliant packages in the market. In 20 months, all tobacco packages should have graphic health warnings covering 50% of its principal display areas.
According to the ASEAN Tobacco Control Atlas 2013, the Philippines ranks second in Asia with the highest incidence of tobacco use in the country that translates to 240 tobacco-related deaths each day. But pro-tobacco control supporters are confident that once these picture warnings are in place, the country will see a decline in these numbers. Extensive research shows that picture warnings on packs leave a strong impact on educating the public about the harms of smoking, motivating smokers to quit, and counteracting misleading tobacco messaging.
President Benigno Aquino signed the Graphic Health Warnings (GHW) Law in July 2014, the second tobacco control measure signed by the current administration, after the Sin Tax Law in 2012.
Photo credit: gafamilylawblog.com