MANILA - Anti-smoking advocates have asked President Benigno Aquino III to finally declare a priority a bill requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
“We hope that the president would prioritize health measures specially the graphic health warning bills. We do not want others to end up like us who are victims of smoking,” said New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) President Emer Rojas.
Rojas, who speaks through an electronic larynx (voice box) after losing his vocal cords to tobacco use, said cancer may already outdo top non-communicable diseases in the country because of high tobacco consumption.
“Cancer kills but it can be avoided. One-third of all cancers can be prevented through early diagnosis, engaging in healthy lifestyle activities such as cutting down on alcohol intake, fatty and salty food, and smoking cessation,” Rojas said.
The Philippines has one of the highest number of tobacco consumers in Southeast Asia with an estimated 17.3 million Filipino adults smoking.
Rojas, a stage 4 laryngeal cancer survivor, said the most common type of cancer among Filipino men is lung cancer, and cancer of the breast is the most common among Filipino women.
“Almost 95% of these lung cancer patients contracted the disease because of smoking. Other types of cancer are also due to tobacco use,” he said.
HealthJustice’s Atty. Diana Triviño said the picture-based warnings should have been in place as early as 2008 based on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that the Senate ratified in 2005.
“In the ASEAN, the Philippines is one of only two remaining countries that have yet to comply with the WHO (World Health Organization) FCTC, ahead of only Myanmar, with health warnings constituting less than 30% of the total surface area of cigarette packs. We only have text warnings which are not effective in curbing smoking among users. Even Indonesia, which is not a party to the WHO FCTC, has gone ahead and implemented graphic health warnings,” she said.
She believes the tobacco industry will again challenge their move, saying the current labels on cigarette packs are the “cheapest forms of advertising and their last chance to communicate with consumers.”