Ex-health secretaries want graphic warnings on cigarette packs, 17/01/11

MANILA, Philippines—Former health secretaries urged the Supreme Court to allow graphic picture warnings on cigarette packs. In a 39-page petition for intervention in the case filed by Mighty Tobacco Corporation against the Department of Health, former health secretaries Dr. Esperanza Cabral, Dr. Francisco Duque, Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, Dr. Alberto Romualdez, and Dr. Alfredo Bengzon said that in their decades of practice, all medical doctors have witnessed the devastating effects of tobacco use on the health and well-being of Filipinos.

Tobacco-related diseases—stroke, cancer, heart attacks, tuberculosis, among others—comprise seven out of the ten primary causes of mortality in the country. “We believe that the Supreme Court will let us join in this fight for the truth and support the DoH to do its job,” said Dr. Cabral, “The meddling of the tobacco industry is preventing the DoH from carrying out its mandate to protect and preserve the health and lives of Filipinos.” DoH Administrative Order No. 13 or the Graphic Health Information order was signed by Dr. Cabral in May 2010 requiring all cigarette manufacturers to place pictures depicting the harmful effects of cigarettes on their packaging.

The Order also prohibits manufacturers from using misleading words on cigarettes packs, like “mild,” light,” “ultra-light,” and “low tar.” Tobacco companies were given only until September 2010 to comply, but instead they took the DoH to court by filing suits in Marikina, Pasig, Paranaque, Tanauan, and Malolos. On July last year, the Lucio Tan-led Fortune Tobacco Corporation also won the suit against the Department of Health when it disallowed the DoH from implementing the order. Cigarette companies such as Mighty and Fortune Tobacco argued that the DoH order was unconstitutional because is usurps legislative power. The DoH order was based on the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to which the Philippines is a signatory. However, cigarette firms said only Congress could implement provisions under FCTC. But petitioners argued that that the Administrative Code of 1987 and Consumer Protection Act of 1990 (RA 7394) give the DoH the authority to issue and implement rules and regulations on tobacco packaging and labeling such as AO 13. “The 240 projected deaths a day due to tobacco use is more than enough reason for us to intervene, being doctors, former health secretaries, and ordinary citizens,” Dr. Galvez-Tan emphasized. Global data show that 1 out of 5 people use tobacco. WHO estimates about 5 million tobacco-related deaths annually. This means that in the 20th century, more than 100 million deaths can be attributed to tobacco use. Quoting international studies, petitioners told the high court that picture warnings are proven to be effective in motivating smokers to quit. When it was implemented in Brazil, 7 out of 10 (67 percent) smokers were motivated to quit. The lesser tobacco use, the fewer tobacco-related deaths. The petitioners added that data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that picture warnings are more noticeable than text-only warnings. “The objective of the AO is primarily to prevent smokers, children and young people from taking on the habit,” added Dr. Cabral, “We simply want them to be informed of what smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke does to their bodies, and to stop them from being the replacement clients of the tobacco industry, since the current users are already dying or have already died due to smoking.” One out of five Filipino youth (21.6 percent) smoke in 2007, up by 40 percent from 2003 (15 percent) according to the 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey. ”Our neighboring countries – Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have already put picture warnings on the cigarette packs before the 2008 WHO deadline, the country is failing not just in its commitment to the health treaty, but in its responsibility to provide life-saving health information to its citizens,” say Dr. Galvez-Tan.

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