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DOH wants 9 cities smoke-free by 2010

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health recently launched the Bloomberg Initiative Project (BIP), which seeks to make nine cities – representing 60 percent of Metro Manila’s population – free of cigarette smoke.

“Unhappily, we still live in a society where the rights of smokers are respected while the plight and safety of non-smokers are not. We pay utmost courtesy to the smoker but we compromise the long-term health of children, women and the majority of our people who are non-smokers,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

Noting that two to three Filipinos die from tobacco-related illnesses every second, he said non-smokers, rather than keep quiet, should tell offenders that they should not smoke in public places.

Dr. Rachel Rowena Garcia, BIP project manager, said they started the project in August 2008 and their deadline is on July 2010.

The project hopes to duplicate the success story of philanthropist and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who implemented a comprehensive tobacco control program wherein 200,000 smokers quit the habit in just two years.

Garcia said they were able to secure a $545,000 grant from Bloomberg, who financed the program that aims to reduce the tobacco use in the country.

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Out of the 17 cities and municipality in the National Capital Region, only seven cities have been selected for the BIP – Caloocan, Navotas, Valenzuela, Quezon, Taguig, Manila and Makati. The government will finance the program for Marikina and Muntinlupa cities.

Garcia said they hope to get an extension of the grant after July 2010 so they could help the eight remaining NCR cities and municipality.

In selecting the project beneficiaries, the BIP set considered population, the commitment of local government officials in removing tobacco-smoking from their city, and if there were existing ordinances that would support their advocacy. Each beneficiary-city would roughly receive US$77,857 or P3.1 million, but the amount would be given in kind.

During the BIP launch, Garcia cited Caloocan for removing the posters of cigarette advertisements and replaced them with no smoking stickers. By next month, the city council is also expected to sign an ordinance against smoking.

She also praised Makati for enforcing anti-smoking regulations stricter than Republic Act 9211, the Tobacco Regulations Act of 2003.

The Manila city council banned smoking in the city hall building and ordered restaurants and eateries not to allow minors to loiter in designated smoking areas and not to sell cigarettes to minors.

Navotas conducted lectures in schools to inform students on the hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke.

Quezon City included warnings on the dangers of smoking in its barangay handbook.

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