Noynoy won't quit smoking
- Sheila Crisostomo, Aurea Calica () - May 25, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - President-apparent Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party said he would no longer debate about his smoking habit with groups seeking to make him an anti-smoking poster boy.

And he isn’t quitting either – at least not at this time.

Aquino bared that he could finish a pack a day, and the most that he did was three packs due to tension during the snap elections in 1985.

Aquino pointed out that he ran and won with the people knowing that he was a smoker. His brand is Marlboro Lights menthol.

“At the appropriate time, I will stop. So long as I am within the law and I don’t inconvenience other people, I think this is part of the little freedom left for me,” Aquino said.

Aquino said he was not ready to quit because of the pressures of the job he is about to undertake and quitting smoking would add “unnecessary pressure” on him and affect his performance.

Told that it was for his own good, Aquino said he was aware of the health risks of smoking but “there is the so-called bad stress that I might experience.” 

Deadline set

In a related development, the Department of Health (DOH) issued yesterday an administrative order giving tobacco companies until mid-July to put graphic health warnings on tobacco product packages.

In a launching ceremony, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the agency deemed it necessary to come up with the administrative order to curb cigarette-smoking which kills some 240 Filipinos a day.

Cabral warned that violators of the administrative order face penalties ranging from seizure of products, closure of stores or “point of sale” and a fine of up to P5 million.

“This administrative order is in line with an international treaty that the Philippines signed. The treaty states that we have to use graphic warning signs. We expect the tobacco industry to strongly oppose this but we are only doing our job – that is to protect public health,” she said.

The health chief was referring to the World Health Organization-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first and only public health treaty that was signed by many countries to reduce tobacco-related illnesses.

Under the FCTC, the Philippines was supposed to institutionalize graphic warning by printing photos depicting the ill-effects of smoking on cigarette packs in September 2008.   

By printing the photographs, health authorities are hopeful that smokers would be scared and quit the habit while those planning to smoke will be discouraged from doing so.

Such a strategy has already been adopted by 38 countries and territories, including Australia, Canada, Brazil, Singapore, Thailand, Venezuela, Jordan, Uruguay, Panama, Belgium, Chile, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Romania, United Kingdom, Egypt, Brunei, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Peru, Djibouti, Switzerland, Cook Islands, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Mongolia and Iran.

Under the administrative order, tobacco firms are required to “adopt measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging and labeling do not promote tobacco by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression.”

These descriptors pertain to “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild,” “extra,” “ultra” and any terms that may mislead the public.

Cabral maintained that the P30-billion revenues generated from tobacco taxes in 2009 are only a fraction of the P200-billion “toll on the country due to health costs and productivity losses.”

According to Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla, tobacco companies with existing technology to print graphic warnings have 45 days from date of publication or until mid-July to comply. The newly merged Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. and Fortune Tobacco comprised 92 percent of the country’s tobacco industry.

Those without such capability at present – comprising merely eight percent – have 60 days from day of publication or until end of July to comply.

The administrative order is scheduled to be published today in newspapers.

“We already have this technology in the Philippines. Cigarette companies actually manufacture their packages (with graphic warning) here in the Philippines but sell the products abroad. The technology is already here,” he added.

Padilla said even if Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 has not been amended to include graphic warnings, there is enough legal bases for the issuance of the administrative order.

He added the administrative order “goes hand in hand” with RA 9211 and the DOH has inherent powers to come up with such a policy as part of its mandate to protect public health.

This as Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president-elect Dr. Oscar Tinio said yesterday that the group is now drafting a resolution prohibiting its members from smoking cigarettes.

“More than half of the medical students are smoking. Many doctors are also smoking.  We know we have to do something about this because as a doctor, how can you advise your patients to stop smoking because it is dangerous to one’s health if you yourself smoke,” he told the press conference.

Tinio claimed the PMA is eyeing the suspension of membership – and the benefits that go with it – of members who violate the resolution. If a doctor is suspended from the PMA, his accreditation with the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. is also put on hold.

Of the 110,000 licensed doctors, some 62,000 are members of the PMA.

“As PMA members, you are bound by rules. If we adopt this anti-smoking policy and you don’t like (to comply), you can just leave and lose the benefits,” he said. –With Sheila Crisostomo   

ADMINISTRATIVE AQUINO CABRAL COOK ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH HEALTH ORDER SMOKING TOBACCO
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