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DoH seeks to ‘fix loopholes’ in tobacco law

Posted on: May 15, 2009

DoH seeks to ‘fix loopholes’ in tobacco law

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 11:02:00 05/15/2009

Filed Under: Tobacco, Health, Legislation

ORIENTAL MINDORO, Philippines—The Department of Health said it will continue to lobby for amendments of and implementation of salient provisions of the tobacco regulation act (Republic Act 9211) to “fix its loopholes.”

RA 9211 is an act enacted in 2003 regulating the packaging, use, sale, distribution and advertisement of tobacco products.

“Ironically, this law [RA 9211] was passed immediately when World Health Organization members were about to ratify the international treaty “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC) in 2005. The health department has been lobbying for the passage of a law on tobacco control for over ten years before RA 9211 was passed, when suddenly, Congress passed this law with provisions beneficial to tobacco manufacturers,” Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla said.

National Center for Health Promotion director Asuncion Anden told INQUIRER.net that RA 9211 was a law formulated by the tobacco industry to “delay the implementation of salient FCTC provisions.”

Padilla admitted: “At first we tried to tolerate RA 9211 and its loopholes, believing it is better to have a law than none at all. But we realized later that we are suffering the consequences now so we have to fix the loopholes.”

The salient provisions of RA 9211 that fell short in implementation (or were not implemented at all) include the smoking ban in public places, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages, prohibiting minors from selling and buying tobacco products, as well as the ban on advertising, promotion or sponsorships, among others.

Having ratified FCTC in 2005, the Philippines must comply with Article 11 of the FCTC requiring picture warnings of at least 50 percent or no less than 30 percent of the principal display panels—but the tobacco industry remains non-compliant, said Padilla.

Since 2005, Marlboro and Mild Seven cigarette packs sold in Thailand–which ratified the FCTC treaty–have graphic or picture-based health warnings occupying the upper 50 percent of both front and back panels of packs, he said.

Graphic health warnings should have appeared on cigarette packs in September 2008, based on FCTC, but the tobacco industry has been “delaying its implementation” even when it was proven that people in countries that implemented the graphic health warnings had a high tendency to quit smoking, said Anden.

“Manufacturers have the capacity to follow the law but they went beyond it saying that RA 9211 preceded the FCTC, while lawmakers delayed the approval of the two graphic health warning bills supporting the FCTC,” said Padilla.

“Picture-based health warnings, which were proposed in Senate Bill 2147 and House Bill 3364, remain pending in Congress,” he said.

RA 9211 does not ban but only restricts the sampling or promotion of tobacco to people below 18 years old, which is a violation of the FCTC provision prohibiting cigarette sale to minors, said Padilla.

He lamented that some street vendors selling cigarettes were minors—exposing them to the risks of smoking at a young age.

With the ban on advertising tobacco, manufacturers shifted their sight to point-of-sale as the primary target of their advertisements and promotion, insisting on placing mini-billboards on top of the entrance of or outside POS such as the Marlboro Lounge in Caticlan airport, and distributing parasols, napkin holders bearing their product name and logos, among others.

Padilla said the DoH will lobby also for the increase of sin tax on cigarettes and to shift from a four-tiered to a unitary excise tax scheme.

This is to prevent the youth and the poor — both vulnerable sectors to smoking —from buying tobacco products, with the youth targeted as replacement for dying smokers and the poor spending about half of their income on cigarette sticks.

In Japan and the United States, the premium price of tobacco has resulted in the gradual decrease of smokers in those countries, said Padillla.

Padilla added there should be strict implementation of smoking areas in public to prevent passive or second-hand smoke from being inhaled by those who don’t smoke.

“Although this has been a long standing fight, we will continue to lobby for these changes because we aim to have a tobacco-free Philippines. We owe this to the present and future generations of the country,” said Padilla.

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