PIA News Service - Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

DOH urges Congress to pass graphic health warning bill on cigarette labels

BUTUAN CITY – Amidst clamor from the international community for the Philippines to comply with the graphic health warnings on cigarette labels of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the Department of Health (DOH) urges Congress to pass the graphic health warning bill on cigarette labels. 

The department enlisted the help of the media in advocating to the public the urgency of passing the Graphic Health Warning bill in the Philippines during the Third Quarter Media Forum on Tobacco Control at Davao City recently. 

Legislative bills (SB2377 and HB3364) have been filed on both Houses of Philippine Congress that will mandate the use of picture warnings instead of plain text warnings on no less than 50 percent of both the front and back surfaces of tobacco packages. 

The bills are aimed at presenting a more accurate depiction of real life debilitating diseases caused by tobacco smoking through strong pictorial warning messages.  

However, the bills are met with strong opposition from the tobacco industry who according to DOH are influencing the legislators not to pass the said bills. 

DOH believes that the bill could substantially reduced costs to human life and health, for both smokers and non-smokers. It is considered as the most cost effective method of informing the public of the risks of continued tobacco use. 

Research studies have shown that requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is one of the best measures to prevent people from nicotine addiction. Picture warnings serve as one of the fundamental strategies employed in tobacco control. Countries like Canada, Uruguay, Thailand and Singapore are effectively implementing it and have documented considerable decrease in consumption of tobacco. 

Recent research strongly indicates that with picture warnings on cigarette packages, would-be smokers will refrain from buying them, while current smokers are encouraged to quit. Evidently, picture warnings can cause reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use. 

DOH argued that there should be no problem in the implementation of the law because the tobacco industry has been using three or five color printing in its packaging. The department further argued that the tobacco industry is already printing graphic warning design in cigarette labels in other countries, so why not in the Philippines? (Lovely Laudette D. Gamba, PIA-Caraga) 
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WHO Rep eye ‘graphic warning’ as effective deterrent to smoking

Dr. Florante E. Trinidad, Technical Officer, Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) sees picture-based warnings as effective deterrent against tobacco smoking as compared to text warnings only.
 
Speaking on the second day of the 3rd Quarter 2009 Media Forum on Tobaco Control Program held recently at the Davao Regency Resort and Hotel Davao City, Dr. Trinidad pointed out during his presentation that picture-based health warnings would increase its effectiveness, make the message more noticeable and salient and help counter the branding and imagery of the package. According to him, it also engages the audience on an emotional level and communicates information to illiterate or less literate populations.
 
He added that health warnings on tobacco packages that combine text and pictures are among the cost-effective ways to increase public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use and to reduce tobacco consumption.
 
He also pointed out that results of studies in other countries using picture-based warnings may tend to show that it worked. In Canada, 58 % said that it made them think more about health effects of smoking. In Brazil, about 67 % said it made them want to quit. Also from the same country, 54 % said that it made them change their opinion about health consequences of smoking. In Singapore, 28 % said that it made them smoke fewer cigarettes and one out of six avoid smoking in front of children as a result of the warnings. In Thailand, 44 % said that it had made them a lot more likely to quit over the next month and still from the same country, 53 % said that it made them think a lot about the health risks. 
 
Dr. Trinidad said that though tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death, yet it is killing 5.4 million people per year from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases according to WHO Report on the Global Epidemic of 2008. Smoking in the Philippines, he said are among the highest in the world today. The country ranked 9th highest in the world for adult male smokers, based on the World Lung and the American Cancer Society findings. Thirty-five percent of adults are current smokers. He also pointed out that tobacco companies are targeting the women, the youth and the poor sectors. In 2008, the country ranked 16th in the world for female adult smokers.
 
Among the world’s youths, according to Trinidad, Philippines counts among the heaviest tobacco users with Filipino girls occupying 2nd place and Filipino boys occupied the 4rth slot in 2003. One in every five students, aged 13-15 currently smoke.
 
It is also equally alarming, as Trinidad pointed out, that hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year from illness related to inhalation of other people’s tobacco smoke. Half of all children worldwide are exposed to tobacco smoke particularly at home. More than 50 studies on environmental smoke and lung cancer risk in people who have never smoked, especially spouses of smokers, have been conducted during the last 25 years. Most of these studies showed an increased risk, especially for persons with higher exposures.
 
The Philippines, Trinidad said, was a signatory on June 6, 2005 of WHO’s Framework Convention On Tobaco Control (FCTC), an evidence-based treaty, in existence to combat the dangers posed by tobacco usage. It aims to reaffirm the people’s right to the highest standard of health through effective information dissemination against smoking. It also advocates for the restriction of tobacco advertising, sponsorships and promotions among ratifying countries, (which is 147 among the 193 WHO Member States), protection of the public via information and the setting up of a highly effective method of labeling and packaging.
 
Proposed measures such as Senate Bill No. 2377 and House Bill 3364 are currently filed in both Houses of Congress hopefully to implement at least three things: fortify the battle against the devastating effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke with better health warnings, ban misleading descriptors and eliminate deceptive labeling on cigarette packs which undermine public health objectives.
 
Both measures, Trinidad said, also call for the removal of descriptors that are false or are likely to create an erroneous impression about cigarette characteristics and hazards.
 
Terms like “low tar”, “light”, “ultra light” or “mild” create an impression that products bearing such words are less harmful. Smokers of such brands of cigarettes have the same chance of getting cancer, a heart disease or a gangrene as of those who are using the regular variety, he said. (Noel B. Najarro, PNN/ PIA-Caraga)
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P1.160M Davao Light, Cotabato Light fund to help PBSP’s poverty reduction projects

Poverty reduction efforts in Mindanao get a boost with a cash donation from two Aboitiz-owned electric distribution utilities. A check amounting to P1.160 million was handed over Friday morning to the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), a corporate-initiated foundation that implements poverty reduction initiatives in the area.  

The amount represents the combined unrestricted contribution of Aboitiz-run Davao Light and Power Company and Cotabato Light & Power Company to PBSP. The two corporations under the Aboitiz Group are founding members of PBSP. Of the P1.160 million P1.1M comes from Davao Light while the P60,000 from Cotabato Light. 

Davao Light Executive Vice President Manuel M. Orig turned over the check to PBSP represented by its Chairman for Mindanao Mr. Paul G. Dominguez. With Dominguez during the rites was PBSP Mindanao Regional Office manager Dr. Marilyn Muncada.

The two electric utilities have been actively involved in various poverty reduction endeavors. Davao Light has been supporting students who belong to the marginalized sector and the indigenous community pursue higher education. This is aside from constructing school buildings and other infrastructure projects designed to address poverty conditions in the area. Cotabato Light is also doing the same social engagement in its area of operation in Cotabato City.  

As members of the Aboitiz Group, the companies channel their contribution through the Aboitiz Foundation, Inc., (AFI), the Group’s corporate social development arm AFI addresses the social and economic development needs of less privileged communities in areas where its companies operate. Being founding members of PBSP, both electric utilities have been in the forefront of alleviating poverty in the countryside since 1970. (Danny Escabarte, PBSP/ PIA-Caraga)