The Department of Health (DOH) today reaffirmed its commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and issued Administrative Order No. 2010-0013 requiring graphic health information on all tobacco packages and to adopt measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging and labeling do not promote tobacco use by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression.

The issuance of the AO is considered a monumental achievement in government efforts to curb tobacco use and reduce its gargantuan socio-economic costs. It is estimated that smoking exacts a P200 billion toll on the country due to health costs and productivity losses, in comparison to the P30B revenues gained from taxes paid by the tobacco industry.

The required graphic health warning information on all tobacco packages reflect findings that warning labels must be noticeable, relevant and memorable in order to be effective. At least 38 countries and territories are already implementing picture-based warnings on tobacco packaging. These include Canada, Brazil, Singapore, Thailand, Venezuela, Jordan, Australia, Uruguay, Panama, Belgium, Chile, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Romania, United Kingdom, Egypt, Brunei, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Peru, Djibouti, Switzerland, Cook Islands, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Mongolia and Iran.

The European Union has also recommended that all their 27 member-states implement graphic health warnings. Other countries in the process of implementing picture-based warnings include France, Iceland. Ireland, Latvia, Macau, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, the United States, and member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Caribbean Community.

Most of the gains in reducing consumption are estimated to come from the youth sector who will likely be discouraged from smoking due to the graphic health information. This is very relevant considering that smoking prevalence among young Filipinos aged 13-15 has increased by approximately 30% over the past two years, according to the Philippines’ 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey.

Bills have been filed in both the Senate (SB 2377) and the House of Representatives (HB 3364) that will mandate the use of picture-based warnings instead of mere text warnings on no less than 50% of both the front and back sides of the tobacco packages. However, these legislative initiatives have met strong opposition from the tobacco industry, which has used its influence on legislators, especially those from the Northern bloc of tobacco-growing provinces.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabra

The passage of these bills into law must be prioritized considering that an average of 1 Filipino dies every 6 minutes due to tobacco-related diseases.

I am appealing to the leaders of the next administration to ensure their passage into law in order to save more than 17.3 million current smokers in the country aged 15 years and above from further addiction and exposure to major health risks”, Cabral said. She also noted that tobacco companies such as Philip Morris, Fortune Tobacco and Mighty Corporation already produce cigarette packages with graphic warnings for export to other countries. There’s no reason why they cannot do it for us here

Noting that the Arroyo Administration, in its concern for tobacco farmers has provided funds to the Philippine Tobacco Authority (PTA) to develop alternative crops and livelihoods for the tobacco farmers, Secretary Cabral expressed her appeal to the PTA to fulfill its obligations to tobacco farmers and to make a report on how it has spent the money allocated for this purpose. At the moment, the profits of tobacco companies and their middlemen have kept increasing whereas tobacco farmers have unfortunately been kept poor as they have always been. Perhaps it’s time for tobacco farmers to shift to growing more high value crops from which they can earn a better living.

Source: DOH

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