Anti-smoking drive gains more backers

05/28/2010 - Health officials on Wednesday said that many groups have expressed support for the Department of Health's (DOH) move to put graphic warnings on cigarette packs.

The Ateneo School of Government declared its support for Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral's issuance of Administrative Order 2010-0013, which requires tobacco companies to place a graphic warning on the negative effects of smoking on the packaging of their cigarettes.

"The Ateneo School of Government supports administrative regulations that would require graphic information like health warnings on cigarette packs," Dean Tony La Vina said.

"To save lives and for a cleaner environment, such regulations are urgent and essential," he added.

Last week, legal experts from the University of the Philippines also called on the country's new leaders to enact specific measures that would require the placing of picture-based information on tobacco product packages.

The department said that international law and constitutional law experts have expressed their approval of the administrative measure that upholds the constitutional right to health and ensures compliance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to which the Philippines is a signatory.

"The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control devotes Article 18 to the protection of the environment and the health of persons," said La Vina, also an expert on environmental policy.

"Furthermore, the guidelines implementing Article 11 of the FCTC direct state-parties to also consider using innovative content for health messages on cigarette packages such as adverse environmental outcomes," he added.

The FCTC is the first public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization. It seeks to protect the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Article 11 of the FCTC states the parties that signed the treaty must ensure that the public is sufficiently informed about the harmful effects of tobacco and must prohibit deception by removing misleading information on tobacco product packages.

Under the treaty, state parties must undertake the measures to protect the public's health within three years of ratification. The deadline to comply with the treaty was September 2008.

More support groups

Other groups have also backed the Health department, notably members of the Alternative Law Groups (ALG), a coalition of nongovernment organizations concerned with the pursuit of public interest, respect for human rights and promotion of social justice.

"Secretary Cabral should have the full support of every Filipino who has ever had a loved one die of cigarette smoke. And those numbers are growing, with 200 Filipinos dying of this addiction every single day," said ALG Coordinator Marlon Manuel.

Gerthie Mayo Anda of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center said that communities that are dependent on forests are also affected by the tobacco epidemic, because over a hundred thousand trees per year are needed for curing tobacco leaves in Ilocos Norte alone. That province is among the four provinces that are major tobacco producers in the Ilocos region.

"This public health crisis brought about by tobacco cuts across many underprivileged sectors who are our clients--farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, the urban poor, women and even children who are targeted to take up the habit or are victims of second hand smoke. Across the board, these sectors will be benefited by graphic health information on the packs [of cigarettes] themselves," said Kaka Bag-ao of Balaod Mindanao who used to be a smoker. (The Manila Times, Philippines)

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