‘Disgusting’ cigarette packs await Aquino okay

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SMOKERS will start seeing disgusting health warning pictures on the packs of their favorite cigarette brands next year if President Benigno Aquino 3rd signs the Graphic Health Warning Bill approved by Congress on Tuesday.

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Aquino is widely perceived to be a heavy smoker.

The bill authored by Sen. Pia Cayetano aims to sternly warn people, especially the youth, of the devastating effects of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke and to remove misleading or deceptive numbers or descriptors like “low tar,” “light,” “ultra lights” or ‘mild” which convey or tend to convey that a product or variant is healthier, less harmful or safer.

The bill stipulates that the graphic health warning should occupy the lower half of the display area of each cigarette pack both on the front and the back.

Its two components are a photographic and a textual warning against smoking.

Tobacco companies must have their cigarette packs printed with the prescribed highly visible full-color health warnings a year after the Department of Health (DOH) issues the templates.

The textual warning shall be printed in Filipino on the front panel and English on the back panel. In the case of other containers where there is only one external surface area, the accompanying text will either be in English or Filipino.

The bill mandates the DOH to issue templates that will be printed by the tobacco companies, while the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is tasked to ensure that cigarette stamps are not affixed on non-compliant packages and to certify under oath that the products withdrawn are compliant with the act.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) created through Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 will monitor compliance with the law, and upon any sworn written complaint, institute the appropriate action for any violation of the Act.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will hear complaints filed by the IAC-T or any private citizen, corporation or organization, for any violation of the law and impose administrative fines which will be used for the health promotion campaigns on tobacco control of the DOH and the Department of Education (DepEd).

Administrative fines will range from P500,000 to P2 million for violations committed by manufacturers, distributors and importers.

A fine of P10,000 to P100,000 and cancellation of business permits will be meted to retailers and sellers that violate the law.

The DepEd will also include the graphic health warnings in their K-to-12 curriculum.

Meanwhile, the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) congratulated the lawmakers who passed the bill on graphic health warnings in cigarette packs but warned them of possible retaliation by big tobacco producers.

“We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to Senators Pia Cayetano and Franklin Drilon and Representatives Barry Gutierrez and Leah Paquiz for fiercely fighting for public health despite a very strong opposition coming mainly from the Northern bloc in Congress.

You have proven to us that no enemy is too big when there are honorable men and women who are willing to make a stand for what is right and for the sake of the Filipino people,” NVAP president Emer Rojas said.

NVAP, a group of cancer survivors and former smokers, have been relentlessly campaigning for picture-based health warnings, citing that of the more than 17 million Filipinos who smoke, 240 die from tobacco-related diseases every day.

Rojas said while the passage of the GHW bill was a huge step towards protecting children from taking up smoking and at the same time encouraging smokers to quit, the tobacco industry was still able to tweak and influence some of its provisions.

“Putting the images at the bottom of cigarette packs reduces its visibility and consequently its effectiveness. We want them seen to warn people that smoking is harmful. We would be the world’s laughing stock because almost all new legislations around the world that implemented graphic health warnings have the images on top of the packs,” he added.

“It’s bad enough that it took us seven years and three Congresses to come up with this law while other parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) have had these health warnings years ago,” Rojas said.

“There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests. The intention of the law is to protect public health and the involvement of the tobacco industry here is an affront to the very goal of this policy,” said Rojas.

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