4 February 2021
More can still be done to ensure the safety of Filipinos when it comes to the harmful effects of smoking and the results of a recent survey may lead policy-makers to the right direction.
According to a survey conducted by Pulse Asia in December 2020, there is overwhelming support for a national smoking ban in all public spaces (93 percent) and in all private spaces frequented by the public (91 percent).
“The survey clearly shows that there is a strong clamor for a smoke-free Philippines. People are more aware now of the health and environmental impacts of smoking, and are more health conscious,” said Atty. Jacky Sarita, Executive Director of Health Justice Philippines.
“We have nothing to lose by becoming smoke free. On the contrary, we have so much to gain—healthier citizenry and cleaner environment. We will even be able to contribute to poverty alleviation,” said Mardy Halcon, country lead of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Halcon added that people in the lower socio-economic demographic level will not be as “financially burdened because if they did not smoke, they wouldn’t have to choose between cigarette sticks and food.”
Halcon cited the case of Artemio Biernes who has been smoking since he was in high school. Like many others, his initiation into smoking was a result of peer pressure.
Artemio, now on his 50s recalled that his friends would not take no for an answer when they offered him a cigarette. He tried it and liked it. Since then, he has not stopped smoking. As he made more money, he periodically increased his allocation for cigarettes. At some point, he was spending 25 percent of his income on cigarettes alone.
Artemio has been smoking for decades when his wife noticed that he seemed unwell. A visit to the doctor confirmed their fears—he was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung disease characterized by difficulty in breathing and caused by many years of smoking.
“Seeing my X-ray results, the doctor asked if I smoked. I said yes. He told me to stop if I did not want my illness to worsen,” Artemio said.
Artemio heeded his doctor’s advice, but by then, the effects of his long years of smoking had taken its toll on his body.
“My body has considerably weakened. I can no longer do the things I used to do,” he said.
Because of Artemio’s condition, his wife Evelyn became the family’s breadwinner. To be able to put food on the table and buy Artemio’s medicines, Evelyn did laundry for their neighbors.
Artemio admitted that he was full of remorse saying, “I hope she can forgive me.”
Artemio’s story mirrors those of many other smokers—starting young because of peer pressure, getting hooked, getting sick, and becoming cash-strapped because of the costs of the cigarettes, hospital bills and maintenance medicines when they get sick.
Numerous studies have consistently shown the link of smoking to various major diseases, among them lung cancer and heart disease.
Smoking has also been found to increase one’s risk of getting infected with Covid-19. Worse, when a smoker does get infected, they are more likely to have a severe case of infection—their lungs, the very target of Covid- 19, having considerably weakened by cigarette smoking.
To prevent Filipinos, especially the youth, from falling into the trap of smoking, anti-smoking regulations have been crafted and passed in the past years. In 2017, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) 26 which banned smoking in public areas except in designated smoking areas that follow guidelines set by the EO.
The EO also enjoined all cities and municipalities nationwide to form a local smoke-free task force with the goal of imposing its provisions.
In 2020, the President signed RA 11467 into law which raised the sin taxes for alcohol and cigarettes and issued EO 106 which regulates the sale, manufacture, marketing, distribution and importation of unregistered electronic nicotine devices and other novel tobacco products.
The directive also bans establishments from selling e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to a person aged 21 years old and below.
New Bill on the Block
In January 2021, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa filed Senate Bill 1976 which aims to institutionalize the advocacy of the President to make the Philippines smoke free.
While he was still a city mayor, the President made Davao City known worldwide for strictly enforcing smoke-free policies that benefited the health of its constituents.
The new bill prohibits smoking in all public transportation vehicles and its terminals, workplaces, and other public places that may be identified by persons in authority.
It also prohibits indoor designated smoking areas which, according to the guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which the Philippines is a signatory, are not sufficiently equipped to protect people from the harm of second-hand smoke.