EDITORIAL - Make every day No-Tobacco Day
(The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2019 - 12:00am

On May 16, 2017, President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 26, which made the smoking ban in his home city of Davao in effect nationwide. The EO, which bans smoking in public and enclosed places, was hailed by anti-smoking advocates. It is an indication of the power of the tobacco lobby, however, that even the President’s super majority in Congress has not backed the EO with a law that will institutionalize the smoking ban.

The country has enough problems enforcing laws. An EO is even more challenging to enforce. Private establishments such as restaurants and casinos are allowed to set aside smoking areas. But most smoking areas don’t have sufficient ventilation and enclosures to prevent second-hand smoke from wafting to the non-smoking part. 

While some progress has been made as World No Tobacco Day was observed on May 31, new challenges have also emerged. In the United States, a battle is now raging against e-cigarettes that have become popular among the youth. Top e-cigarette brand Juul, shaped like a USB flash drive, claims to have just five percent nicotine. Health experts warn, however, that one Juul pod actually delivers the nicotine equivalent of a pack of regular cigarettes. And the experts warn that there is no scientific evidence to back claims – now spread by Big Tobacco, which has invested heavily in Juul – that e-cigarettes and vaporizers help people quit smoking.

In the Philippines, anti-smoking advocates are pushing for a similar ban on e-cigarettes and vaping areas – a business that is unregulated, and whose products are not registered with the Food and Drug Administration. With Big Tobacco now investing in e-cigarettes, however, the anti-vaping campaign could face as much resistance from Congress as the increase in tobacco excise taxes.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization reports that tobacco kills an average of eight million people a year. In 2017, tobacco was blamed for the deaths of 1.5 million people from chronic respiratory diseases; 1.2 million from tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer, and 600,000 from respiratory infections and tuberculosis. In addition, over 60,000 children under age five die each year from diseases caused by second-hand smoke. Children who survive the exposure tend to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease later in life, according to the WHO, which points out that 69 of the chemicals in tobacco cause cancer.

The health risks posed by cigarette smoking have been well documented. Tobacco-related illnesses put a heavy strain on public health funding. With new challenges posed by electronic cigarettes and other vaporizers, government regulators must be up to the job. Every day must be No-Tobacco Day.

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