Government committed to bring down smoking incidence in the country: Drilon

Saying that efforts to reduce smoking incidence in the country need to be sustained, Sen. Franklin M. Drilon, an anti-smoking advocate, vowed to look into every possible means to discourage Filipinos from smoking, which will include a legislation that will require that cigarette packages carry a large graphic warning label depicting the dangers of smoking.

Drilon has filed Senate Bill No. 499 that will mandate tobacco companies to show picture-based health warnings on cigarette packages “in order to strengthen the government’s efforts to discourage smoking.”

The proposed “Picture-Based Health Warning Act of 2013” is aimed at increasing the awareness of the cigarette consumers on the harmful effects of smoking,” said Drilon, who was instrumental in the passage of the controversial Sin Tax Reform Act.

Drilon was recently awarded the Medal of Honor by the World Health Organization-Western Pacific Regional Office for his role in the passage of the said Act.

“Studies indicate that textual health warnings are not effective. While present smokers understand that tobacco use is harmful, studies point that most are not completely aware of its true risk,” said Drilon.

“Other studies however have shown that the use of graphic images on packets have a significantly wider reach than mere text warnings, as images produce effects not just on the smoker, but on the people around him,” explained Drilon, “it has also been apparent that these images have a significant effect on those who have difficulty in reading and writing.”

He notes, for instance, a study by the Center For Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, showed that from 2008 to 2010, more than 25 percent of people in the 14 countries surveyed were affected by warning labels, while the use of prominent pictorial warnings was considered to be the most effective medium in communicating the health hazards associated with smoking.

“By strategically placing meaningful graphic images along with text warnings to cigarette cartons and other tobacco products, we hope to effectively deter smoking in the same way that other countries where this system have been set in place were able to reduce the incidence of smoking in their respective jurisdictions,” stressed Drilon.

Under the bill, the graphic warning shall have a measurement of not less than 2475 square millimeters regardless of the type of tobacco package and it be printed on at least 60 percent of the principal display surfaces of any tobacco package and shall be located at the upper portions of the cigarette pack.

The bill also requires that a minimum of eight variations of graphic warnings be printed simultaneously. They shall be rotated periodically, not just for each brand family but also for each brand within the family for each package size.

The text warning, written in both English and Filipino on the front and back panels, that accompanies the graphic must be written in such a manner that an ordinary layman will understand what the picture is all about and what are the ill-effects of smoking.

No cigarette packs or other tobacco product packages shall contain information that may imply that one variant or brand is safer than the other, such as, but not limited to, statements indicating that the tobacco product contains “reduced levels” of contents, substances, and emissions, the bill said.

Failure to follow the provisions of the Act will result in a fine ranging from P1 million to P20 million and/or imprisonment of not more than five years.

Drilon reiterated that Philippine registers one of the highest smoking incidences in the Western Pacific Region. Citing various studies including the 2009 Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Drilon emphasized that more than 17 million of the population aged 15 years and above currently smoke, on the average, 10.7 sticks of cigarettes a day.#