Philippines - remarks at the Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health ..

October 12, 2010 - Remarks regarding the Philippines (RP) and Tobacco at the Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health.

RP: 18 million male smokers and counting
In the Philippines, however, a government order this year requiring picture warnings on cigarette packs has been stymied in three Philippine courts that have issued orders stopping the initiative after petitions by the tobacco industry. Only word warnings currently appear on cigarette packs in the Philippines, not seen as having a great impact on the nearly half of adult Filipino men and one-tenth of women who smoke.

Moreover, cigarettes are taxed lightly in the Philippines compared to other nations, making them more affordable to consumers. The Philippines is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy Marlboro cigarettes, among the globe’s leading brands.

With cheap cigarettes that come in packaging without adequate health warnings, the Philippines is ninth in the world in the number of male smokers, with nearly 18 million, according to The Tobacco Atlas published by the American Cancer Institute.

Tobacco companies dominate RP
Anti-smoking advocates were elated earlier this year when then-Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral issued an Administrative Order requiring tobacco companies to place health warnings with pictures of cancer victims on all cigarette packs.

Five tobacco companies challenged the order in five different Philippine courts. Two judges issued injunction orders temporarily preventing its implementation, while a third, Judge Brigido Luna of the ParaƱaque Regional Trial Court, issued a final decision last September 8 in favor of the owners of La Suerte Cigar and Cigarette Factory by declaring Cabral’s order "null and void." The Department of Health has elevated the issue to the Supreme Court.

"The tobacco industry is sending a message in the Philippines – this is where they dominate," said Dr. Judith Mackay, a co-author of The Tobacco Atlas and a long-time tobacco control advocate in Southeast Asia. "What the Philippines needs are a president and government that are seriously committed to the health of the people."

Mackay adds that it doesn’t help that the Philippines has a president that smokes. "Being a non-smoker would help your president be more objective about smoking," she said. "It would clear the air, so to speak, so he can make better decisions about it." However, she credits President Noynoy Aquino for saying that "he wants to quit, recognizing that it is an addiction. He is embarrassed by it and is no longer seen smoking in public."

Tobacco industry officials in the Philippines have not returned calls by GMANews.TV. But on the Philip Morris Philippines' web site, it states:

"While we support comprehensive, effective tobacco regulation, we do not support regulation that prevents adults from buying and using tobacco products or that imposes unnecessary impediments to the operation of the legitimate tobacco market. In that regard, we oppose measures such as plain packaging, point of sale display bans, total bans on communications to adult consumers, and bans on the use of all ingredients in tobacco products."

Ironically, while Philip Morris opposes graphic health warnings on cigarette packs sold in the Philippines, it manufactures in its giant plant in Batangas cigarettes exported to Thailand that have gruesome cancer pictures. Thailand imposes heavier restrictions on tobacco.

Onus on Congress
The judicial impasse for the Department of Health order for graphic health warnings has "created an onus for Congress to act quickly on legislation," according to lawyer Debby Sy, executive director of the anti-smoking advocacy group Health Justice.

Previous attempts to pass legislation on picture health warnings, however, were defeated by the tobacco industry’s allies in Congress. – TJD, GMANews.TV

Reference: In hostile world, RP remains friendly to tobacco companies by HOWIE G. SEVERINO, GMANews.TV, 10/9/2010.

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Cigarette pack with picture warning for export to Thailand made by Philip Morris Philippines, which opposes the same warnings for the Philippine market. Howie Severino