I was surprised to see the huge warning printed on my friend’s pack of cigarette.
Everybody knows that. The sign is very visible. It’s easy to read. I don’t know if anybody will listen.
This warning, of course, was implemented only recently. Here’s what I learned:
of landmark law on cigarette labeling
Are cigarette companies above the law?
This question arose after Senator Pia S. Cayetano learned about the apparent failure of the inter-agency committee overseeing the implementation of Republic Act 9211 (“An Act Regulating the Packaging, Use, Sale Distribution and Advertisements of Tobacco Product and For Other Purposes”) to enforce some of the law’s key provisions.
Cayetano, chairperson of Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said the failure to enforce the Tobacco Regulation Law of 2003 is partly to blame for high tobacco use among Filipinos and the high rate of smoking-related deaths and illnesses in the country.
She said the inter-agency committee must explain why tobacco companies have not complied with Section 13-c of the landmark law, which mandates all cigarette packs to bear prominent health warnings beginning July 1, 2006.
The Inter-agency Committee on the Tobacco Regulation Law is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), while the Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) sits as vice chairperson.
“People can check it for themselves: None of the cigarette products in circulation today has complied with the new labeling requirement that should have come into effect three months ago,” she noted.
Under Section 13-c, all cigarette labels should allot a portion not less than 30% of the front panel of the pack bearing any of the following health warnings: (1) “GOVERNMENT WARNING: Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health,” (2) “GOVERNMENT WARNING: Cigarettes are Addictive,” (3) “GOVERNMENT WARNING: Tobacco Smoke Can Harm Your Children,” or “GOVERNMENT WARNING: Smoking Kills.”
“Reports reaching our office indicate that cigarette companies had in fact lobbied with the DTI for a deferment of Section 13-c, notwithstanding the fact that they had three full years to prepare for it since RA 9211 was passed way back in 2003,” Cayetano said.
“Our inquiries with the DTI revealed that cigarette companies have cited an apparent conflict with a new regulation on product labeling issued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in connection to the amended sin tax law.”
“Despite our incessant follow-ups on the matter, however, the DTI has been unable to furnish our office with supporting documents to show if there is any basis for a deferment of Section 13-c, as well as inform us of the inter-agency committee’s official action on the cigarette companies’ request.”
She said the only way the deadline could have been extended is by amending the law itself, but this has not taken place.
“The delay in the enforcement of the new labeling regulation certainly gives the public the impression that cigarette companies are above the law.”
She continued: “Educating the public is key to reducing cigarette consumption and lowering the exposure of millions to the dangers of smoking. But if the inter-agency committee cannot guarantee strict enforcement of Section 13-c, then what more for the law’s other lofty objectives?” she asked.
Aside from regulating cigarette labels, RA 9211 implements an absolute ban on all tobacco advertising on television, cable television and radio by July 1 next year, and on all cinema and outdoor advertising by July 1, 2008.
The law also promotes a healthful environment by imposing a smoking ban in public places and prohibiting minors from both buying and selling cigarettes.
Cayetano said there’s an urgency to fully enforce RA 9211 in light of the findings of the 2005-2006 Tobacco and Poverty Study in the Philippines showing that the national prevalence rate of tobacco use has jumped to 34.8 percent this year from 31.6 percent in 1999.
The same survey also showed that 20 percent of the household income of smokers’ families is drained because of tobacco use, while around 20,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses every year.
[The press release is posted here. The “No Smoking” sign is courtesy of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP)].