World No Tobacco Day a reminder to pursue stricter tobacco control policies

May 31 marks the celebration of World No Tobacco Day.

The Philippines is a signatory to the World Health Organization-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), ratified in 2005. The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9211) serves as a framework for controlling and regulating tobacco products in the Philippines, but this needs to be updated to align with the standards of the FCTC. A number of legislative measures were also passed to enhance the country’s tobacco control policies including the Sin Tax Reform Act of 2012 and Graphics Health Warning Act of 2014. These, particularly increase in sin taxes, have resulted in a significant decline in the overall smoking prevalence from 2009 to 2015.

However, despite all these progressive measures, the Philippines remains a high-burden tobacco use country according to the WHO. The Philippines has also been tagged as the second-largest tobacco consumer in Southeast Asia. Recent data shows that 1 in every 4 Filipinos smoke tobacco. Current projections further show that there will be 200 000 more smokers every year, resulting to one million more smokers before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, if stronger efforts to reduce tobacco use will not be put in place. This is equivalent to economic losses of P314 billion due to the health problems caused by smoking.

Moreover, the ill effects of tobacco use extend to non-smokers including children through second-hand smoke – and even third-hand – smoke, endangering their health and well-being.

Currently, there are cessation efforts launched by the Department of Health, like “quitline”, to help smokers initiate or continue quitting tobacco use. The Senate is also deliberating on a proposed law that seeks to further increase the excise tax on tobacco products, which is expected to be passed before the end of the 17th Congress. A great deal of studies has shown that increasing tobacco tax is an effective way of deterring future smokers, which will result to an overall decrease in the prevalence of tobacco use. Bills were also filed in both houses of the Congress to raise the age of access to tobacco and to regulate the use and distribution of e-cigarettes.

PLCPD believes that ensuring the good health of every member of the society is crucial in developing their quality of life and their ability to participate in nation-building. PLCPD also recognizes the power of policymaking in creating lasting solutions to the burden of tobacco in the country.

In line with this, PLCPD joins other countries in celebrating the World No Tobacco day and in calling for the adoption of stricter tobacco control policies. Specifically, PLCPD calls for the immediate passage, in the remaining days of the 17th Congress, of proposed measure to increase the excise tax on tobacco products. The amendments to RA 9211, such as the raising the minimum age of access to cigarettes, removal of the tobacco industry in the IAC-T, and expansion of smoke-free public places, as well as banning or strict regulation of e-cigarettes and other novel tobacco products which are seen as a gateway to smoking addiction must also be pursued by the 18th Congress. These measures enjoy overwhelming public support; recent polls have shown that 9 out of 10 Filipinos support the banning of smoking in public places and raising the minimum age for buying and using cigarettes. The same popular support is shared by the proposal to increase taxes on tobacco products.

PLCPD calls on every legislator to bear in mind the health and well-being of every Filipino who suffers every day due to tobacco smoke and to resist the pressures coming from the tobacco industry.

Finally, PLCPD enjoins all Filipinos to be one with the fight for a smoke-free Philippines. For the future generations, let us build an environment free from tobacco.

Tobacco kills. Don’t let tobacco take your breath away.