Warning pics of smoke-related diseases pushed, 14/05/10

A group of legal experts asked new leaders of the country Thursday to enact laws that would put picture-based health warnings of smoking-related diseases on packages of tobacco products in compliance with the agreement signed by the country under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Members of Health Justice, a non-government agency composed of lawyers aiming for tobacco control, said the country must comply with the treaty with FCTC signed in 2003.

 FCTC is an agency under the World Health Organization (WHO) that requires parties to establish strategies to fight the damaging effects of tobacco.

The use of graphic health warnings on cigarette packages was pushed heavily by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance of the Philippines (FCAP) but failed to secure the nod of lawmakers.

“It is undeniable that the FCTC has become a municipal law after it was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2005 in accordance with our Constitution. Thus, as a State Party, the Philippines must comply with FCTC provisions in good faith; failure to do so constitutes an internationally wrongful act,” Dean Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the current dean of the University of the Philippines(UP) College of Law, said.

But recently, Department of Health (DoH) secretary Esperanza I. Cabral said that she will soon sign an administrative order that would enforce the use of picture-based health warnings depicting diseases that are related to tobacco use.

She said the graphics to be used in the packages have already been selected and will soon be available.

Atty. Leo D. Battad said that the youth are very visual and putting graphic health warnings on cigarette packages will more effectively deter them from tobacco use.

“I am sure that the youth will benefit the most from regulating tobacco product packages and labelling.

The youth are particularly vulnerable to the various advertising and marketing schemes of the tobacco industry. By requiring, for example, the placement of necessary health information relating to the dangers of tobacco products and smoking, tobacco addiction among the young people will hopefully be curbed. We need to save the children,” Atty. Battad said.

Battad is also a board member of the Street children Development Center, Inc.

Health Justice cited a study conducted in 2008 by market research firm, Good Thinking, that covered some 400 Filipinos aged 15-60 who confirmed the effectiveness of picture warnings to protect public health.

The study was commissioned by Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

The survey said that pictures are truly effective in discouraging youngsters from taking the habit as opposed to a text-only warning.

Atty. Ipat Luna, an environmental lawyer and breast milk advocate lamented that despite the passage of RA 9211 or the tobacco regulation act of 2003, cigarette companies are still able to peddle their trade even in ‘illegal ways.’

“Despite the law, brands are promoted in all kinds of illegal and barely legal ways — like painting entire stores with the colors, outdoor billboards despite the ban on these, and even brand names and logos on vehicles, towels, even toys. Information including health warnings strategically placed on the pack itself is a good way to counter the assault the tobacco companies are waging on the consciousness of the youth.”

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