I am writing as a concerned citizen. I see a lot of children on the streets smoking cigarettes. Do we not have any laws regulating the sale of cigarettes especially to children who fall prey to such vice owing to their innocence?
We have a law regulating the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. We have Republic Act (R.A.) 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003. This law contains provisions concerning the packaging, use, sale, distribution and advertisements of tobacco products. The law defines tobacco products as any product that consists of loose tobacco that contains nicotine and is intended for use in a cigarette, including any product containing tobacco and intended for smoking or oral or nasal use (Section 4(s), R.A. 9211).
With respect to the matter at hand, the said law specifically provides that it shall be unlawful for any retailer of tobacco products to sell or distribute tobacco products to any minor (Section 9, R.A. 9211). A retailer refers to any person or entity that sells tobacco products to individuals for personal consumption (Section 4 (o), R.A. 9211). Reading the two provisions together, this means that “any person or entity” may be subject to criminal prosecution for selling cigarette or tobacco products to a minor. Hence, street vendors, sari-sari stores and even supermarkets are covered by the prohibition.
The retailer may not claim ignorance of the age of the minor to evade responsibility. The law specifically denies such an excuse to the vendor by stating that it shall not be a defense for the person selling or distributing that he/she did not know or was not aware of the real age of the minor. Neither shall it be a defense that he/she did not know nor had any reason to believe that the cigarette or any other tobacco product was for the consumption of the minor to whom it was sold (Section 9, R.A. 9211). Incidentally, in case of doubt as to the age of the buyer, retailers are even mandated to verify, by means of any valid form of photographic identification containing the date of birth of the bearer (Section 12, R.A. 9211).
Violation of the provisions of R.A. 9211 on sale or distribution of tobacco products to a minor constitutes a criminal offense. Thus, those who violate it may be subject to criminal prosecution and, upon conviction, may be penalized with fine of not less than P5,000 or imprisonment of not more than thirty days if it is his first offense. For succeeding offenses, both penalties shall apply in addition to the revocation of business licenses or permits in the case of a business entity or establishment.
If the violation is by an establishment of business entity, the owner, president, manager, or the most senior officers thereof shall be held liable for the offense (Section 32, R.A. 9211).
We hope that we were able to sufficiently answer your concern. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you presented and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to email@example.com