The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) has launched in Puerto Princesa City the “iChange: Vote for a smoke-free Philippines” electoral campaign which challenges 2019 mid-term poll candidates to support stricter tobacco control and regulation of the minimum age for buying and using cigarettes.
PLCPD advocacy manager Aurora Quilala said it is a call for all local and national candidates to also support the regulation of e-cigarettes and imposition of higher taxes on them, as well as lowering by five percent the country’s cigarette consumption and limit buying to 25 years old above.
Quilala said the campaign further aims to bring the issue of tobacco control to public knowledge because “it is a right-to-health issue.”
“Actually, five percent ang target pero hindi natin masabi kung kailan dapat exactly kasi mahirap talaga. Kung bakit five percent ay dahil hindi mo talaga siya totally maba-ban. Mahalan mo man ang presyo, ang mga mahihirap lang siguro ang hindi na makakabili pero ang iba na may pera kahit gaano kamahal ‘yan bibili ‘yan,” she pointed out.
The iChange: Vote for a smoke-free Philippines features a series of conclaves and media events in selected cities and provinces in the Philippines, including Benguet, Albay, Palawan, and Cebu.
She said data shows that 24 percent of the country’s total population is a smoker.
Quilala added there are many proposals to strengthen tobacco control policies in the country such as the expansion of smoke-free environments, removal of the tobacco industry in the Interagency Committee-Tobacco, and raising the minimum age for buying and using cigarettes from 18 to 25.
Proposed policies, she said, include too the banning of e-cigarettes.
Quilala said there are bills that have been approved by the House of Representatives (HOR) on the imposition of higher taxes on e-cigarettes, but the Senate finance committee is still deliberating on them.
“There is an overwhelming support for stricter tobacco control policies. Hindi mo kasi matatanggal ang supply kaya ang strategy ay doon tayo sa demand. Bawasan ang demand sa iba’t-ibang way kasama diyan ang pagtataas ng presyo at itaas ang edad ng bumibili,” she also said.
Quilala cited that a recent survey they conducted with Pulse Asia showed that nine out of 10 adult Filipinos agree that smoking in public places should be prohibited.
Nine out of 10 adult Filipinos also favor the raising of the minimum age for buying and using cigarettes from 18 to 25 years old.
In another survey conducted by Pulse Asia from March 23 to 27, 2019, three out of four or 75 percent of adult Filipinos said they are in favor of increasing the taxes on cigarettes.
“The results of the surveys show that Filipinos, smokers and non-smokers alike, are aware of the dangers of using tobacco. The results are also an indication that it is time to introduce and discuss policy reforms that will make our tobacco control laws more health-oriented. May this pressing public health issue deeply penetrate into the national conversation and compel our legislators and government officials to act,” Quilala said.
Meanwhile, Filomeno Sta. Ana III, executive director of Action for Economic Reforms (AER), said an effective tobacco control policy includes an increase in prices and taxes of cigarettes.
Sta. Ana said they want a 100 percent smoke-free policy, higher taxes on cigarettes, ban or strict regulation of e-cigarettes, and the higher minimum age for buying and using cigarettes.
“Studies have shown that tax and price measures are the most effective demand reduction strategies when it comes to tobacco. Hindi mo kasi totally matatanggal ang sigarilyo sa industriya, kahit ipagbawal mo ‘yan magiging ilegal lang pero dahil may demand mayroon pa rin talagang maeengganyo na mag-supply,” he said.
Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, executive director of Roots of Health (or Ugat ng Kalusugan), also said that health should be a priority of every Filipino citizen.
“Smoker or not should be aware that smoking may affect everyone’s health,” she said.
“I am not an expert pagdating sa ganito but smoking really affects everyone. Bawal ang paninigarilyo sa public but dito palang sa Puerto Princesa ay maraming hindi nakakasunod. Medyo nagkukulang pa tayo sa enforcement, hindi hinuhuli. Kaya siguro the public should be more aware kung ano ang magiging epekto ng tobacco sa ating kalusugan,” Swanepoel said.
The group challenged candidates for the May 13 elections to support stricter tobacco control legislation also in Puerto Princesa City and Palawan by passing resolutions and ordinances.