Tobacco control begins to take hold in the Philippines
Susan Mercado; Alastair Dingwall
Restaurants and bars that allow smoking now risk being closed by the city authorities in Manilas business district. This tough new approach is a direct result of Republic Act 9211, which regulates "the packaging, use, sale, distribution and advertisement of tobacco products" and was passed on 23 June 2003. The act is a milestone for the Philippines and ends a 13-year deadlock on public health policy between the two houses of Congress.
The new legislation was sponsored by Senator Juan Flavier, a former Secretary of Health, and conforms to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2003. It covers some of the most contentious aspects of the treaty: bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and labelling.
Previous attempts to regulate tobacco through legislation included the Consumer Act of 1991, which required clearly visible health warning labels on tobacco products. Its implementation was delayed by a case filed by the tobacco lobby against the government until the Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of the Department of Health in 2001.
A number of cities and municipalities have also enacted ordinances and regulations to support tobacco control, some of them introducing enforcement procedures that are more stringent than the national law. In Manilas business district of Makati, for example, senior citizens have been deputized to enforce the ban on smoking in public places.
The act has also given an impetus to the banning of smoking in government health facilities and government offices.
The next step for the Philippines will be to increase tobacco taxes and possibly to use the revenue from taxes for health promotion. New legislation in this direction is being discussed, following the examples of Malaysia, Thailand and the state of Victoria in Australia.
Within the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines will have an important role to play in the debate over exempting tobacco products from the removal of tariffs on products produced within ASEAN.