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DOH: Put ‘graphic warning’ on cigar packs

Posted on: May 14, 2009

DoH: Put ‘graphic warning’ on cigar packs

Urges Congress to pass legislation

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 09:56:00 05/14/2009

Filed Under: Health, Legislation

ORIENTAL MINDORO, Philippines–The Department of Health (DOH) urged Congress to pass immediately the bill mandating that picture-based health warnings be placed on half of the packaging of tobacco products, a health official said.

“We urge both chambers of Congress to discuss the bill in plenary and pass it because the Philippines ratified and signed the FCTC provisions on tobacco control,” Asuncion Anden of the DOH’s National Center for Health Promotion said in a forum Wednesday.

She was referring to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in which the Philippines, as a signatory, should have passed a law supporting the mandate in September 2008.

“Why are images of health warning important? A picture of a health warning will convey a message that will bring out less confusion with words. Take for example the warning: ‘Smoking causes cancer.’ Not all people can read and not everyone who has read something has the same understanding of what they read. Ipakita ang totoo sa pakete (Show the truth of tobacco ills in picture warnings),” said Anden.

The packaging of tobacco products in our country only includes text warnings while those we export to Thailand, for example, include picture-based health messages, she added.

“We are glad to say that the Philippines is a tobacco exporter and follows regulations of other countries but in our country, bakit wala (why is there none)?” asked Anden.

When Senator Pia Cayetano chaired the committee on health, the reading for the bill went through smooth sailing but when the Senate leadership changed and the committee was handled by Senator Loren Legarda, it seemed Legarda was not anymore interested in pushing for the bill, said Anden.

The North bloc in the House of Representatives reportedly opposes the lobby for the bill’s passage because of the lack of “alternative livelihood” programs for the tobacco farmers or traders who have been benefiting from the P2-million industry, said Anden.

As a country in the Southeast Asian region, the Philippines is being eyed as an emerging market for tobacco use because it is already a sunset or mature industry in the West, said Anden.

“Worldwide, one person dies from exposure to tobacco smoke every six minutes and the tobacco industry is targeting the non-smoking youth to replace the consumers who die. The incidence of picking up the habit is increasing due to the perception that smoking is cool and they are enticed by glossy advertising from manufacturers,” said Anden.

Anden lamented that while 90 percent of Filipinos are aware of the ills of tobacco use, it has not been translated into behavior.

She said they plan to tap the youth to advocate tobacco control and possibly create another mascot, like “Yosi Kadiri,” which showed tobacco ills explicitly and had memory recall among the people.

In July 2002, the Philippines passed Republic Act 9211 to regulate the packaging, use, sale and distribution, and advertisements of tobacco products and for other purposes but “implementation is not yet full blown.”

“It is a very good law — that promoted smoke-free areas, informed the public on tobacco-related diseases, banned all tobacco advertisement and sponsorship and protected the youth from the smoking habit — but it had loopholes,” said Anden.

The local law mandated the removal of huge billboards advertising cigarette products except in point-of-sale (POS) or stores selling the products. However, manufacturers “found a way to go around the law” by distributing signs, posters or calendars featuring cigarette advertisement on the side, said Anden.

“For the tobacco industry, POS is the entire premise of the store—but the moment you advertise outside the store, that is against the law,” said Anden.

Anden cited that while billboards in Makati City, Silang town in Cavite province and Davao City don’t display tobacco products, “the battleground is so vast.”

As part of its campaign against cigarette smoking, the DoH is inviting the youth to attend a free concert featuring anti-smoking bands like Hale, SinoSikat and Itchy Worms at the Quirino Grandstand in Quezon City on May 31, with a walk-for-a-cause in the morning.

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