Pakita ang TOTOO sa Pakete

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Tobacco control advocates have reason to celebrate this year despite the many challenges occurring along the way. Tobacco control issues have made it to the Top 3 list of the most talked about health issues in the country, ranging from the call of various groups for President Noynoy Aquino to quit his smoking habit to the Civil Service Commission’s policy to restrict smoking in government offices, to the moves of the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board’s order for a 100% smoke free public utility vehicles and land transportation terminals as well as the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education’s memoranda for smoke free schools. More and more local government units nationwide are also passing smoke free ordinates in their areas.

On May 24, the then Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral issued Administrative Order (AO) 2010-0013 requiring graphic health information and the removal of misleading descriptors such as “mild”, “light”, “ultra-light” and “low tar” on tobacco product packages.

The DOH is merely implementing Article 11 on Packaging and Labeling of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international health treaty that mandated all member parties to implement the same through “all legislative, executive, administrative or other issuances as would best carry out the treaty within a period of three years from the time a member Party has ratified or acceded to the Convention.” The Philippines ratified the FCTC on September 4, 2005 and by September 4, 2008, the country should have complied with Article 11 minimum standards.

 Before the 90-day grace period for the full implementation of the AO, tobacco companies have filed cases against the DOH in different courts – Fortune Tobacco in Marikina City; Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Corporation in Tanauan City, Batangas; Mighty Corporation in Malolos, Bulacan; La Suerte Cigar and Cigarette Factory in ParaƱaque; and Japan Tobacco Corporation in Pasig City. Jose cited Fortune Corporation which filed a case in Marikina City and Mighty Corporation Tobacco Company which filed a case in Bulacan.

One of the arguments of the tobacco industry is that the country’s Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 or Republic Act (RA) 7394 which was passed two years before the Philippines ratified the FCTC, only called for written warnings. Thus, they say, DOH has usurped the legislative function of Congress if it inquires graphic health information as well.

Of the five courts, the one in Marikina City and another in Bulacan have issued preliminary injunctions stopping the DOH order. A court in ParaƱaque City declared the Order null and void, while a Pasig City court has yet to rule on the matter. The biggest joint venture corporation formed by Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing, Inc. and Fortune Tobacco in Tanauan City lost its case where a court dismissed the petition against the DOH.

On September 7, the tobacco control advocates made their own offensive move. Over a hundred petitioners led by former senator and secretary, Dr. Juan Flavier and running priest Fr. Robert Reyes want the Makati court to issue a “clarificatory judgment” on Section 13(g) of RA 7394 in relation to the DOH AO. The case was filed against the Philippine Tobacco Institute and six tobacco companies.

Section 13 (g) of the RA 7394 requires that no other printed warnings, except the health warning and the message required shall be placed on cigarette packs.

Leo Battad and Jose Jose of the University of the Philippines Office of Legal Aid, counsel for the petitioners, argued that Section 13 (g) of the law did not curtail the right and duty of the DOH to issue regulations protecting the right to health information.

For the DOH and other tobacco control advocates, tobacco smoking is an addiction and it contains over 40 carcinogens and thousands other chemicals affecting not only the smoker but those around them through secondhand and third-hand smoke. The tobacco industry cannot be treated like any other company or business because it is imbued with a public health risk that needs to be regulated strictly and specifically to prevent the youth and poor from being exploited or initiated to smoking.

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