4 tobacco firms were urged by Senator Pia Cayetano to drop the lawsuits opposing the Department of Health’s implementation of graphic health warnings.
Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation Inc. (PMFTC), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), British-American Tobacco Philippines (BAT), and Mighty Corporation Inc. (MCI). were present during the public hearing for the graphic health warnings (GHWs) bills conducted by the Senate Committee on Health and Demography last January 22, 2014. The discussion covered Senate Bill 27, authored by Cayetano, and SB 499 by Senate President Franklin Drilon.
The lifesaving measure was met with strong support by health experts in attendance, as well as by tobacco firm representatives, who expressed support “in principle” for the pending GHW bills.
“I am pleased and surprised because I’ve conducted this same hearing six years ago and back then, the cigarette companies were really opposed to this,” Cayetano said.
Past efforts to place GHWs on Philippine cigarette packs have been repeatedly blocked. In 2008, the graphic health warning house bill sponsored by Representative Paul Daza was blocked by congressmen who were reportedly given P20,000 each to oppose the bill. The senate counterpart bill filed by Senator Pia Cayetano was likewise not passed. In 2010, the Department of Health under then Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral attempted to implement graphic health warnings through an administrative order. This move was met by five different lawsuits filed by tobacco companies – these cases are still pending before our courts today.
Cayetano put forward the option of withdrawing the lawsuits meant to block this measure, saying that it would save a lot of time and resources, and allow congress to focus on other pressing health issues.
Health advocates present expressed support for this alternative. “240 Filipinos die every day from tobacco-related illnesses. Many of those addicted to tobacco products come from the poorest of the poor. Considering the socio-economic profile of our country’s population, graphic health warnings are the most effective means of getting the most number of people to quit. The sooner we implement a graphic health warnings policy, the better,” said Atty. Diana Trivino, project manager of public health NGO HealthJustice.
“Withdrawing the cases filed against the DOH sends a good statement that we can set aside differences,” said Dr. Ulysesses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
Support for GHWs has likewise increased 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 1stdistrict of Albay, which was filed on the same day as the successful public hearing of the counterpart bills in the Senate. Similar to that of Akbayan’s, Lagman’s bill proposes graphic health warnings covering 85% of the cigarette pack. “We must match the high nicotine and carcinogenic levels of these cigarettes with aggressive measures like printing graphic picture-based warnings on all cigarette packets,” said Lagman.