Press Release
July 11, 2013

Sen. Pia ready to revive fight for graphic health warning bill
in 16th Congress

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is ready to revive the fight for the passage of the bill mandating cigarette packs to bear graphic health warnings (GHWs) in order to educate the public on the dangers of smoking and inhaling tobacco smoke.

Cayetano has re-filed Senate Bill No. 27, also known as 'An Act to effectively instill health consciousness through picture-based warnings on tobacco products' in the 16th Congress.

The bill failed to pass in the two previous Congresses due to strong opposition from the tobacco industry, according to the senator, who authored and sponsored two earlier versions of the Graphic Health Warning (GHW) bill in the 14th and 15th Congress.

"I am hopeful that we will have more colleagues who would stand up for the interest of public health when the GHW bill is tackled in the committee and plenary levels," she said.

A similar bill has been re-filed by Senator Franklin Drilon, who was also Cayetano's co-sponsor in the 15th Congress.

"The GHW bill would serve to complement the Sin Tax Reform Act (RA 10351), which Sen. Drilon and I also helped enact in the previous Congress. Under this law, additional revenues from higher sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol products will be used to fund the government's health programs, including universal health coverage," she pointed out.

"Unfortunately, higher excise taxes on tobacco are often not enough to discourage more smokers to quit. As our historical experience with raising sin taxes would show, smokers tend to shift to lower-priced brands to be able to sustain the habit."

Under SBN 27, cigarette and tobacco product packages would be required to bear full-color graphic health warnings composed of a photographic warning showing the health dangers related to tobacco use or exposure to second-hand smoke, and a textual warning related to the picture. Both components should comply with guidelines as prescribed by the Department of Health (DOH).

The GHW is mandated to occupy at least 60 percent of the upper front and 60 percent of the upper back panels of the packaging.

"Currently, cigarette labels are only required to bear text warnings, which various studies have shown to be insufficient in conveying the dangers of tobacco products. In contrast, graphic or picture-based health warnings have been proven to be more effective in discouraging people, especially the youth, from becoming smokers, and in discouraging those who are already smokers," she noted.

The bill likewise prohibits cigarette packages from bearing descriptors that would directly or indirectly suggest that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than any other tobacco product or brand. Samples of such descriptors include, but are not limited to 'low-tar,' 'light' and 'mild.'

"There is no such thing as a 'safe' or 'less harmful' cigarette, that's why we intend to do away with such misleading descriptors," she explained.

In addition, one side panel of the packaging should bear additional textual health warnings, hotlines, or websites for tobacco-related concerns, or tips on how to stop smoking.

"With this bill, we will have the opportunity to directly engage smokers and educate them on the hazards of the habit right on the packaging of the tobacco products they'll be holding in their hand," she explained.

Smoking has been linked to various diseases listed by the Department of Health (DOH) among the leading causes of deaths in the country. These include ailments affecting the pulmonary system, such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), coronary heart disease and stroke.

Citing figures from the joint presentation of the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Finance (DOF) to the Senate hearings on the Sin Tax Bill last year, she said annual smoking-related deaths are estimated at 48,499 and the social costs of smoking at P177 billion.

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