The bicameral conference committee approves the bill that seeks to cover half of cigarette packs with images of the health risks caused by smoking.
MANILA, Philippines – The graphic health warning bill is now one step closer to becoming a law.
The bicameral conference committee on Tuesday, June 10, reconciled the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the bill, which seeks to place graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
The reconciled version of the bill mandates the placing of images of the health risks caused by smoking on the lower portion of a cigarette pack. The photograph warning should cover at least 50% of both sides of the pack, Senator Pia Cayetano told reporters on Tuesday after the bicam meeting.
The Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will be the lead implementing agencies once the law is passed. DOH will issue the templates, while the DTI will hear complaints and determine administrative fines.
“Within one year [after issuance of templates], makakakita na kayo nggraphic health warning sa lahat ng cigarette packs,” Cayetano said, adding tobacco manufacturers will be given 8 months to exhaust their stocks of packs that only bear text warnings.
(Within one year [after issuance of templates], you will already see a graphic health warning on all cigarette packs.)
There will be a maximum of 12 variations of graphic health warnings to be rotated every 24 months.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue will also be tasked to make sure every pack has a graphic health warning before placing their internal revenue strip stamp.
Non-compliance by manufacturers, distributors, and importers will be fined accordingly:
- 1st offense – not more than P500,000
- 2nd offense – not more than P1 million
- 3rd offense – not more than P2 million or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; revocation of business permit
Retailers and sellers will also be fined:
- 1st offense – not more than P10,000
- 2nd offense – not more than P50,000
- 3rd offense – not more than P100,000 or imprisonment of not more than 1 year, or both; revocation of business permit.
Cayetano will present before the Senate the reconciled version of the bill on Wednesday, June 11, for its ratification. (READ: Smoking kills: Senators want to show you how)
Both houses of Congress have to ratify the bicam report before the final bill is transmitted to Malacañang.
The Philippines is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires the implementation of “large, rotating health warnings on all tobacco product packaging and labeling.”
The graphic health warning bill is seen as a necessary supporting law to the country’s sin tax law as it can help bring about a further decline in the number of Filipino smokers. (READ: Health or revenue? Senators weigh graphic health warning bill)
With 240 Filipinos dying every day due to major tobacco-related diseases, health advocates say picture-based warnings are also needed to warn Filipinos who cannot read or understand the current text warnings being used on cigarette packs.
In a 2012 SWS survey, 77% of respondents said putting pictures of smoking-related diseases on cigarette packs will help decrease smoking. (INFOGRAPHIC: Imagining a world with no tobacco)
Health advocates, however, stressed that graphic health warnings placed at the bottom of the pack are less effective.
“Tayo lang ang bansa sa rehiyon na ito na nasa ilalim [ang graphic health warning],” lawyer Ipat Luna of HealthJustice said on Tuesday. (We are the only country in this region which will have graphic health warnings at the bottom.)
Once the law is implemented, she said the group is ready to prove that graphic health warnings at the upper portion of cigarette packs are more effective.
But HealthJustice lauded the exclusion of the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) as the lead implementing agency of the law, as prescribed in the House version of the bill.
The IAC-T, mandated by law to “balance the interest of trade and health,” has in its membership the Philippine Tobacco Institute. But article 5.3 of FCTC requires public health policies to be protected “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”
While not the lead agency, IAC-T will still monitor the tobacco industry’s compliance to the graphic health warning law.
The group will also keep an eye on DTI.
“Babantayan pa rin namin ang gagawin ng DTI dahil napakarami na nilang ginagawa, baka mapabayaan nila ang pagpapatupad ng batas na ito,” Luna said. (We will still monitor DTI since they are already doing a lot and they could neglect the implementation of this law.)
A committee, to be led by DTI and DOH, will draft and issue the law’s implementing rules and regulations 6 months after enactment, in consultation with non-governmental organizations, tobacco farmers, and tobacco industry representatives.