MANILA, Philippines — More than 150 anti-smoking activists, including throat cancer survivors, marched to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City Thursday to urge government to fast-track the passage of legislation requiring tobacco firms to put graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
The “Right to Health Walk” is the third march organized by New Vois Association of the Philippines to push public health issues to the fore.
“Ten percent of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers can be found in Southeast Asia where the Philippines belong. We are the second largest smoking population in this region with 17.3 million adults smoking. More than 87,000 Filipinos die every year because of smoking — that’s more than the number of those who succumb to heart attack and stroke. This is clear and present danger that must be addressed at the soonest,” Emer Rojas, NVAP president, said.
Rojas said graphic health warnings provide a clearer message about the harm smoking causes, especially to women, children, and the poor who are lured to the habit by the attractive designs of cigarette packs.
The newly released Tobacco Atlas of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance showed the Philippines among the three countries with the most number of smoking women in the region.
It is estimated that nine percent of Filipino women smoke. This is statistically more than Indonesia, which has the most number of smokers in the region. Only 4.5 percent of Indonesian women smoke.
The Tobacco Atlas also estimates that 10.5 percent of Filipino children aged 13-15 years smoke.
“The tobacco industry is out to target a new generation of smokers,” Rojas said, noting that there are “cigarette packs designed like chocolate bars and lipstick.”
“While the industry is barred by law to advertise their products, these packages serve as the cheapest way to communicate to their potential customers,” he said. “Pictures are more effective at sending a powerful message than mere texts. We want pictures to save lives than peddle death through smoking. Implementing a law that will mandate the industry to place health warnings is not just about passing a legislation it’s about addressing a public health concern. Graphic health warnings will tell women, children and the poor the real effects of smoking and they can make an informed choice if they will still go for it,” Rojas stressed.
Although picture warnings should have been implemented in 2010 as part of the Philippines’ commitment to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a suit filed by the tobacco industry has stopped the Department of Health from enforcing this.