On the Graphic Health Warning Bill

Sponsorship Speech for Senate Bill No.3283
Committee Report 397


8 October 2012

Note: Read PDF file of SBN 3283 click HERE

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues:

According to DOH, for every cigarette stick, a smoker loses at least 5 minutes [1] of his/her life, not to mention the devastating ill-effects on the health of innocent people around him, whose only fault is that they did not forget to breathe.

Based on a World Bank study, this roughly translates to an annual death rate of five million people worldwide. With current smoking patterns, about 500 million people alive today will eventually die due to tobacco use.[2]

It is a fact that smoking comes hand in hand with a web of health problems and complications. According to the Philippine College of Physicians, among these diseases are chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcer, and cancers of several organs.[3] For women, it can cause infertility, early menopausal, and pregnancy problems such as fetal abnormalities and even death of the fetus.[4]

Deaths and diseases – these are the consequences that a smoker faces for what? For a temporary state of relief and relaxation derived from smoking, and the superficial ‘coolness’ perceived to be had by the youth when they have a cigarette. Unfortunately, the benefits of smoking are not worth the possible costs.

In the report of the Surgeon General 2010 as cited by Dr. Encarnita B. Limpin during the hearing of the bill, cigarette smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, more than 70 of which are known carcinogens.[5] The most notable ones are:

- nicotine, a poisonous alkaloid used as an insecticide;
- ammonia, a chemical which increases the impact of nicotine, thus inducing addiction;
- carbon monoxide, a toxic gas also found in car smoke which can disrupt the amount of oxygen in transported in the body;
- and lead, a poisonous chemical which can stunt growth and cause brain damage.[6]

What’s worse is that these chemicals and hazardous substances pose health risks not only to smokers themselves, but even more to non-smokers who are exposed to it. This is more so because the detrimental effects of smoking extend to the environment, basically through air pollution. As per the Center for Disease Control, tobacco smoke produces six times the pollution of a busy highway when in a crowded restaurant.[7]

Given these facts, it is without doubt that tobacco smoke is an active contributing factor to a hazardous environment as well as a threat to our public health.

Tobacco use in the Philippines
Mr. President, the alarming prevalence of smoking generates deadly results. In fact, five of the top ten death-causing diseases in our country can be attributed to tobacco smoking.[8] The top preventable risk factor is smoking. In a National Nutrition and Health Survey, smoking is found to be the number one cause of stroke and heart attack, even more than diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol.[9]

Yes, Juan de la Cruz is indeed addicted to smoking. In fact, as presented during our hearing, 80% of Filipino households in the poorest quintile have at least one member who smokes.[10] The lowest segment of the income bracket spends 1.1% of their total expenditure on tobacco.[11] This is more than what they spend on education and medical care combined.[12]

The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003
The 12th Congress passed Republic Act 9211, which provided for the requirement of textual health warnings on all tobacco products, prohibition of tobacco advertisements in all mass media, prohibition on outdoor and cinema tobacco advertisements, and ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports, concerts, and cultural and art events, with various time frames, all of which are already in place.

SBN 3283
Having said that, Mr. President, I now rise to sponsor Senate Bill No. 3283, under Committee Report 397 or An Act to Effectively Instil Health Consciousness Through Picture-Based Warnings on Tobacco Products. This bill requires all tobacco products to bear pictures illustrating the ill-effects of smoking.

While many tobacco users know that tobacco is harmful, studies show that most are unaware of its true risks. As the old adage goes, “a picture paints a thousand words.” Studies have shown that picture-based health warnings are more effective than text warnings alone. In fact, a study revealed that such health warnings are “60 times more effective in terms of encouraging cessation and prevention than text-only labels.”[13]

The use of pictures and graphics will also effectively convey the message to those with literacy problems.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society,[14] as of May 2012, at least 56 countries already require picture warnings as of May 2012 and there are other countries that are still in the process of coming up with similar policies on graphic health warnings. The Gulf Cooperation Council Standardization Organization has likewise adopted a standard on picture warnings to be followed by its member countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.

Sadly, Mr. President, cigarette packages manufactured in the Philippines and sold in our neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Thailand already include picture-based health warnings because it is required in these two countries. On the other hand, cigarette packages manufactured in Singapore and sold in the Philippines carry only textual health warnings because we do not require pictorial health warnings.

As an additional information, in August of this year, the highest court in Australia upheld the law on mandatory plain packaging for cigarettes thereby removing the colors and logos of the different brands.

Mr. President, this bill requires all cigarette packages and other tobacco product packages found in the market, including cartons or master cases, to bear highly visible full-colour picture-based health warnings. This will have two components: a photographic picture warning, and an accompanying textual warning that explains in simple terms what the picture is all about.

This bill will also prohibit the use of descriptors, including terms, trademarks, or any sign or feature that creates or is likely to create the false impression that a product or brand is less harmful.

Mr. President, deceptive marketing and lack of clear information on the severe and detrimental health effects of smoking have resulted in people smoking without giving much thought on its negative effects on one’s body and the people around you, most especially the youth.

By exposing and reminding them of the hazardous effects of tobacco smoke, this bill seeks to deter people from smoking and encourage existing smokers to drop the habit.

Once again, I rise to seek your support for Senate Bill No. 3283. Together, we can work towards a cleaner and healthier Philippines.

Thank you, Mr. President. #

[2] World Bank (1999). “Curbing the epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control”
[3] Dr. Encarnita B. Limpin’s PowerPoint presentation “Discussions on Sin Tax: Health and Revenues”
[4] US Department of Health and Human Services: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2010 as cited in Dr. Encarnita B. Limpin’s PowerPoint Presentation
[5] US Department of Health and Human Services: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2010.
[6] World Bank (1999). “Curbing the epidemic”
[7] Center for Disease Control (CDC). (2003). It’s Time to Stop Being a Passive Victim.
[8] Leading causes of mortality: 1. diseases of the heart; 2. malignant neoplasms; 3. pneumonia; 4. cerebrovascular diseases (is a group of brain dysfunctions related to disease of blood vessels supplying the brain); 5. tuberculosis; 6. chronic lower respiratory diseases; 7. diabetes melletius; 8. certain conditions originating in the perinatal period; 9. assault; 10. nephritis syndrome nephrosis (Nephrotic syndrome is a nonspecific disorder in which the kidneys are damaged, to leak large amounts of protein (at least 3.5 grams per day per 1.73m2 body surface area) from the blood into the urine). (source: Philippines in Figures, NSO)
[9] National Nutrition and Health Survey, 2008; DOH and DOF PowerPoint Presentation (2012)
[10] Family Income and Expenditure Survey, 2003 as cited in the PowerPoint Presentation of Dr. Jessica de Leon of the Department of Health
[11] Family Income and Expenditure Survey (2009).
[12] Ibid.
[13] Applied Economics. Cost-benefit analysis of proposed new health warnings on tobacco products. Report prepared for Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. [online] 2004. Available from: http://www.treasury.gov.au/documents/794/DOC/Cost_Benefit_Analysis.doc.

Photo: Prior to delivering her speech on the Graphic Health Warning Bill on Oct.8, Sen Pia Cayetano opened an exhibit at the Senate calling for the passage of a meaningful (as opposed to a watered-down) version of a related measure, the Sin Tax Reform Bill.

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