Press Release
January 30, 2012

30 January 2012

Mr. President, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to bring attention to one of the deadliest but most preventable cause of diseases - SMOKING.

Please allow me to start with these alarming statistics:

Around 240 Filipinos die every day, Mr. President, I REPEAT, EVERY DAY, due to tobacco-related illnesses, at an hourly average of 10.[1]

International organizations, our own Department of Health and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) have stressed the fact that second-hand and even third-hand tobacco smoke equally kills people. PMA cited a study on Metro Manila's 12 million residents, showing that more than 20% of heart attacks can be attributed to second-hand smoke.[2] The same study also revealed that if one's average exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke is one to seven hours per week, the total attributable heart attack risk would be approximately 10%. Furthermore, if the average number of hours of exposure is more than 21 hours per week, the number of second-hand smoke-related heart attacks would increase to more than 20% of the total heart attacks incident. According to the Department of Health, the country spends about P235 billion just to address four of the many tobacco-related diseases, such as heart diseases, stroke, emphysema, and lung cancer. Can you imagine that? That money could be used to build hospitals or health centers for helpless newborns, mothers and children who deserve better health care.

What makes it all the more alarming is that tobacco smoke extends to the environment thereby affecting more non-smokers. Tobacco smoke damages the environment through air pollution. It produces six times the pollution of a busy highway when in a crowded restaurant.

It is high time that we acknowledge that smoking kills -- our children, our productive citizens and our senior citizens. Billions of pesos that could be used to improve our health care system, build schools, or create livelihood programs are spent on tobacco-related diseases could have been prevented.

A bit of history, Mr. President. The ill-effects of tobacco have been known for many years. Because of all these disturbing statistics, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 9211 or the "Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003". Eight years ago, the passage of a landmark law regulating smoking in the Philippines was considered a victory.

RA 9211 was enacted to "protect the populace from hazardous products and promote the right to health and instill health consciousness among them" and 'to promote a healthful environment".

Unfortunately, the passage of RA 9211 has not created the full impact it was intended for. A healthy environment is far from being a reality in this country. I can enumerate several reported violations with regard the implementation of this law, but for purposes of this privilege speech, allow me to focus on Section 6 thereof paragraph one of which states:

Section 6. Designated Smoking And Non-Smoking Areas - In all enclosed places that are open to the general public, private workplaces, and other places not covered under the preceding section, where smoking may expose a person other than the smoker to tobacco smoke, the owner, proprietor, possessor, manager or administrator of such places shall establish smoking areas. Such areas may include a designated smoking area within the building, which may be in an open space or separate area with proper ventilation, but shall not be located within the same room that has been designated as a non-smoking area. (emphasis ours)

The law, Mr. President, is clear. It prohibits smoking in "all enclosed areas that are open to the general public, private workplaces, and other places not covered under the preceding section, where smoking may expose a person to the other than the smoker to tobacco smoke".

As such, the law requires "the owner, proprietor, possessor, manager or administrator of such places" to "establish smoking areas" that "may include a designated smoking area within the building, which may be in an open space or separate area with proper ventilation, but shall not be located within the same room that has been designated as a non-smoking area."

However, despite the clarity of the law, my office regularly receives reports of violations by establishments and malls. Some violations include the designation of smoking areas that are in the same room as the non-smoking areas without any partition or with partial partition. Worse, there are many establishments and malls which do not bother to establish such smoking areas or allow smoking in the same room as the non-smoking area. Mr. President, many non-smokers, myself included, choose to simply move away if possible or try not to breathe if a smoker lights up in front of me or in a nearby table. We do this, or I do this, so as not to antagonize anyone.

But Mr. President, why is my right and the right of every Filipino to breathe clean air inferior to the privilege of the smoker to smoke wherever he pleases despite existing laws that specifically designate smoking areas?

Who of us would volunteer to sit on the curb of EDSA at the height of rush hour and inhale all the exhaust of the vehicles? We need not be reminded of how polluted and dangerous that air is. And yet, I tell you now that tobacco smoke has been shown to be more deadly than the smoke in a public highway.

Mr. President, dear colleagues, the law requires that the smoking area is in a separately enclosed well ventilated area. Well ventilated does not mean you open the door and you allow your smoke to go out to the non-smoking area. It also does not allow you to step out of your room with a cigarette in your hand. When you do that, you encroach upon my right to breathe clean air; you deprive every Filipino citizen of their right to health as guaranteed by the Constitution. I appeal to all government and public official to be faithful to the law. We have colleagues who have health conditions that are aggravated when exposed to second-hand smoke. All of us have employees who deserve just as much protection under the law. Many employees are young women of child-bearing age, your smoke affects their maternal health.

It is not a privilege to smoke in our offices. In fact, it is prohibited. Will our employees dare question their boss? They won't. And even visitors will allow themselves to be subjected to smoke without complaining.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, RA 9211 was passed by this very Institution. I trust that we will show the Filipinos that the law is equally applied, that none of us is above the law. I trust that the Senate, through Your Honor's leadership, will take the necessary corrective measures to ensure that we strictly comply with the law, that we have enacted.

Seriously, Mr. President, as members of the legislative branch, we should be at the forefront in the implementation of the laws we have stamped with our approval, especially those intended for the protection of our health and for a clean environment.

Mr. President, the Senate, in our oversight capacity, should monitor implementation of our laws and task the implementing agencies to perform their duties as required by law. Thus, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, a health and environment advocate, and a mom, I respectfully push for the following actions:

1. I task the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) the agency mandated to enforce RA 9211, to ensure proper compliance of the law, especially Section 6 thereof.

Under RA 9211, the lead agency of the IAC-T is the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with the Department of Health (DOH) as the vice chair with several members, including the Philippine Tobacco Institute, the organization representing tobacco companies.

For the past two years, the IAC-T has only conducted four meetings, two for each year, on the following topics:

a. The IAC-T having exclusive jurisdiction over tobacco products; b. Country Representation to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) negotiations on Articles 9 and 10; and c. Clarification whether DTI is the lead agency on the guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC.

What is disturbing, Mr. President, is that the IAC-T, the body which was given the exclusive power and function to administer and implement the provisions of RA 9211, has reported only ONE violation or case filed for the period January- September 2011. I find this so absurd as even in my own twitter account Mr. President, I have received reports of so many violations of RA 9211, and that is only with respect to Section 6, or the violations of the smoking areas. And yet, I believe there are more provisions of the law that are being violated out there! Is the slow action of the IAC-T because it has not received any reports of violations? Or is it because the IAC-T failed to conduct aggressive information campaigns as to the availability of their hotlines? Or is it because they simply refuse to act on such reports of violations?

Upon inquiry with the secretariat of the IAC-T, reports of violations go thru the DTI hotline but that as far as they are aware of, there are no reported violations other than those subject of cases filed in court.

With this, Mr. President, I reiterate my strict directive for the IAC-T to do it's job and act on these reports of violations. I task them to convene a meeting immediately and take up reported violations and act upon them. In my oversight capacity, I have written to some of the malls/establishments whose violations have been brought to my attention.

2. I also call on the Local Government Units, as part of their mandate under the Local Government Code, to enforce strict compliance of Section 6 by establishments and malls in their jurisdiction. May I point out that among the penalties for violations of the law is the cancellation of their business permit.

3. Lastly, I call on every Filipino to be vigilant and report violations of this landmark law.

Mr. President, it is every person's right to have good health and a clean environment. Let us not deprive each Filipino of this basic and simple right. Thank you.

[1] Department of Health.
[2] World Lung Foundation (WLF) and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

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