If the Constitution calls on the State to “promote the general welfare of the people”, then they deserve the right to “face their fear” and make informed decisions about their health, well-being and happiness.
Metro Manila – Throat cancer survivors marched to Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City Friday to press the government to prioritize the passage of a measure putting graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
Dubbed the “Right to Health Walk,” Emer Rojas, New Vois Association of the Philippines president and a global cancer ambassador, said graphic health warnings provide a clearer message on the harms that smoking brings, which particularly benefit women, children, and poor smokers who are lured into the habit by attractive designs of cigarette packs.
Rojas led the march attended by more than 150 members of the NVAP and various organizations from persons with disabilities, urban poor, youth, senior citizens, medical professionals, and other health advocates that walked from Philcoa to the main office of the CHRin Quezon City.
“Pictures are more effective in sending a powerful message than mere texts. We want pictures to save lives than peddle death through smoking. Implementing a law that will mandate the industry to place health warnings is not just about passing a legislation, it’s about addressing a public health concern. Graphic health warnings will tell women, children and the poor the real effects of smoking and they can make an informed choice if they will still go for it,” Rojas was quoted in reports as saying.
Targeting a new generation
“The tobacco industry is out to target a new generation of smokers. All around shelves in various groceries and convenient stores you see cigarette packs designed like chocolate bars and lipsticks that one’s attention is easily grabbed. While the industry is barred by law to advertise their products, these packages serve as the cheapest way to communicate to their potential customers,” he added.
“More than 87,000 Filipinos die every year because of smoking – that’s more than the number of those who succumb to heart attack and stroke. This is clear and present danger that must be addressed at the soonest,” Rojas stressed.
He said picture-based warnings on cigarette labels should have been available in the country since 2010 as part of its commitment to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that the Senate ratified.
The move was, however, stymied after the industry sued the Department of Health that issued an administrative order mandating graphic health warnings in 2010.
Relative ease of passage
For his part, AKBAYAN Congressman Barry Gutierrez III said in a news conference at the CHR that the Graphic Health Warnings bill should be easier (to pass) in a sense, compared to sin-tax because it was actually a more direct linked incentive for people to not buy cigarettes because of its spiraling prices that are really going to have a more direct effect on purposes and sales of the cigarettes.
The bill is really more on information requirement, he said, and the policy right now is to provide better means for defining the risks associated with cigarette smoking.[pq]The event also called on the public to discourage their children from using cigarettes, asking them to lead by example.[/pq]
Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance also noted that the country was behind the international target passing of the Graphic Health Warnings law since 2008, along with Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.
Health Justice member Diana Cecilia Trivino also shared her conversation with Health Sec. Tayag at the news conference stating, the laughable premise is people living in rural areas, who have no access to clinics and have no time for health services, have time to buy cigarettes.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez was optimistic that the bill would be passed with the help of his fellow representatives.
The country is the second largest smoking population in the Southeast Asia region, having some 17.3 million adults smoking.
More diseases linked to smoking
The local anti-smoking campaign coincided with the release of a new report by the US Surgeon General over the weekend significantly expanded the list of illnesses caused by smoking, calling for “increased and sustained action” to reduce tobacco use and save lives.
The new report — The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General — came a half century after the historic 1964 surgeon general’s report, which made clear that smoking causes lung cancer. It declared that evidence has linked smoking to diseases of nearly all organs of the body.
Smoking causes colorectal and liver cancer and increases the failure rate of treatment for all cancers, said the report, which was formally released at a ceremony at the White House on Friday morning.
Smoking is also a cause of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration. In can increase risk for tuberculosis disease and death, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and impaired fertility, cleft lip and cleft palates in babies of women who smoke during early pregnancy.
In addition, second-hand smoke exposure is now known to cause strokes in nonsmokers.
“Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General’s report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes,” a wire report quoted acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak as saying in a statement.
“How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks.”
The report blamed this epidemic on “the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry, which has deliberately misled the public on the risks of smoking cigarettes”.
In a statement, US Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius said: “We need to partner with the business community, local elected officials, schools and universities, the medical community, the faith community, and committed citizens in communities across the country to make the next generation tobacco free.”