Written by Claudeth Mocon
SEVEN years of text-only warnings placed on cigarette packs did little to curb the use of tobacco in the Philippines, health advocates revealed.
Text-only warnings, or those messages found at the lower front side of cigarette packages, were ineffective to convince smokers to stop or discourage would-be tobacco consumers.
“It’s been years that we are exposed to the same text-only messages found on cigarette labels. They are no longer effective,” said lawyer Diana Triviño of HealthJustice during a recent forum attended by member of NewVois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), a group of throat cancer survivors.
Triviño said text-only warnings, with messages such as: “Cigarettes are addictive,” “Cigarette smoking is dangerousto your health,” “Tobacco smoke can harm your children,” and “Smoking kills,” are no longer convincing enough for people to stop puffing because they have been routinely exposed to the same messages for many years.
“These messages were the result of Republic Act (RA) 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 which required tobacco manufacturers to put text-only warnings covering 30 percent of cigarette packs. The law, however, gave tobacco companies until 2006 to comply. But after seven years we realize that this requirement did not achieve its health objective,” said Emer Rojas, president of NVAP.
In an age of social media and infographics, health advocates agree that the best way to caution the public of the harmful effects of smoking is through graphic-health warnings.
In 2003 the same year that RA 9211 was enacted into law, the Philippines signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Senate concurrence with the convention was made in 2005. The law mandates that graphic health warnings should be printed in all tobacco packages being sold in the country starting 2010. But this was stymied after the courts ordered the Department of Health, that issued an administrative order requiring picture-based warnings, to refrain from doing so as a result of the various legal suits filed by tobacco companies.
“Interestingly, the Philippines was among the key facilitators of FCTC Article 11 [Graphic health-warning requirement]. Other countries are wondering why we have yet to have a law on this,” said physician Ulysses Dorotheo, project director for Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax, of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
Dorotheo said packaging is the cheapest form of advertising for tobacco companies since RA 9211 bars cigarette ads and sponsorship. It is also the reason big tobacco challenges all government efforts to come up with policies requiring graphic health warnings.
“Tobacco companies have been peddling their products as if smoking is a normal activity. Over the past five years, different types of packaging like those that use pastel colors and attractive designs have been targetting women and new smokers,” he added.
Triviño said it is ironic that cigarette makers are opposing graphic health warnings in the Philippines when some of these packages are made here and exported to neighboring countries like Singapore and Thailand.
The Philippines has an estimated 17.3 million adult smokers, the second highest number of tobacco consumers in the Southeast Asian region just next to Indonesia.