Press Release
March 14, 2014

Sen. Pia open to 'reasonable' amendments to Graphic Health Warning bill

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is willing to accommodate amendments to the Graphic Health Warning (GHW) bill that would 'reasonably' adjust the periods of compliance for cigarette manufacturers to place picture-based health warnings in the packaging of their products.

Cayetano is the principal author of Senate Bill No. 27, the proposed 'Graphic Health Warning Law,' which would require locally sold cigarette packs to bear highly visible, full-color picture-based health warnings showing the hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke.

Responding to the interpellation questions of Sen. Francis Escudero in plenary earlier this week, Cayetano expressed her readiness to accept amendments to SBN 27 that would address the concerns of cigarette manufacturers over the compliance periods required under the measure.

The principal sponsor of the GHW bill emphasized, however, that the amendments should be reasonable and done in good faith, and would not be used by interested parties to delay the implementation or circumvent the bill's objectives.

In his interpellation, Escudero cited Section 5, which sets a transition period of 90 days to include picture-based health warnings in locally sold cigarette packs. He also cited Section 10, which mandates a compliance period of 120 days for the removal of non-compliant cigarette packs from all displays.

"I will be very candid about it. This [provision on the period of compliance] is not carved in stone. We are happy to receive the amendments at the proper time, but we just want to be sure that these are reasonable," Cayetano explained.

She recalled that the first time she sponsored the same measure in the 14th Congress seven years ago, cigarette manufacturers were still very unreasonable with their recommendations. "But now, all four companies present [during the committee hearing, namely, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation Inc., Japan Tobacco International, British American Tobacco Philippines and, Mighty Corporation Inc.] expressed support for the measure and simply asked that the specific period be looked into so that it is more reasonable," she noted.

Cayetano added that the different suggestions submitted by the manufacturers will be collated and considered in determining a reasonable transition period.

To which Escudero responded, "I would like to thank the sponsor for being open to such a point, and, at the proper time, after being given data by the committee, we would be willing to work with the good sponsor on what a reasonable period would be. And I am in agreement, [the amendments] cannot cause undue delay and must be done in good faith."

Cayetano also clarified during Escudero's interpellation that the GHW bill will not outlaw the local practice of selling cigarettes by 'tingi' (by the stick) in sari-sari stores and by 'takatak boys' (street cigarette vendors).

Escudero earlier shared his observation that it is only in the Philippines where cigarettes can be purchased by the stick. "In fact, one of the reasons why perhaps smoking has proliferated among the youth is that it is only in this country that you can buy cigarettes by piece," he noted.

Cayetano agreed that selling by the stick makes cigarettes affordable to the youth and therefore encourages smoking at an early age. "It has been my position that for this to be truly a health measure, we should stop selling by the stick, (but) I believe that the manufacturers will question this as interference with their commercial discretion on how they sell."

She continued: "What we recommend is that any type of packaging must contain the graphic health warning. In other words, if they are still selling by 'tingi-tingi,' then they must pull it out of a packaging like this. They cannot take it out and put it in a separate container. It still must be in this kind of packaging. And if they hand one (stick), then they can hand one. I do not like it that way, but until we disallow the sales by 'tingi-tingi,' then it has to be in that packaging on display in the hand of the 'takatak boy.'"

Also responding to Escudero, Cayetano said cigarette products produced abroad and imported to the country would also have to comply with packaging requirements under SBN 27.

The lady senator also expressed her view that the GHW requirement would not be considered a non-tariff barrier to trade under economic regimes to which the Philippines is a party, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Japan-Philippines Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

"No. Because the fact is, in many of our neighboring countries, [the graphic health warning] is already the requirement [of their governments] as well," she added, while showing to senators a sample of a cigarette pack bearing graphic health warnings that was manufactured in the Philippines but sold for export to Thailand.

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