Press Release
March 3, 2014


Mr. President, my dear colleagues.

Just a few days ago, or last February 27 to be exact, we marked the ninth anniversary of the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The Convention was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic and is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health.[1]

The first treaty to be negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization, the WHO FCTC has since become one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaty in United Nations history with 168 signatories as of today.[2]

Through Resolution No. 24 which we adopted on April 25, 2005, the Senate of the 13th Congress - which I was fortunate enough to head - concurred in the ratification of the WHO FCTC. It formalized our adherence to the Convention's "core demand reduction provisions" to impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorships and promotion; establish new packaging and labeling of tobacco products; adopt measures for protection from exposure to tobacco; and eliminate illicit trade, manufacturing and counterfeiting of tobacco products.

More important, our concurrence to the WHO FCTC signified our commitment "to protect the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke by providing measures to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke."[3]

We must continue to proactively participate in attaining the objectives of the WHO FCTC, one of which is for every person to be better informed of the health consequences of tobacco consumption.

Thus today, it is my privilege to co-sponsor and seek the support of this Chamber for the prompt approval of Senate Bill No. 27, otherwise known as "An Act To Effectively Instill Health Consciousness Through Picture-Based Warnings On Tobacco Products."

Authored by our tireless health advocate and staunch anti- smoking crusader, Sen. Pia S. Cayetano, and based on a bill filed by former Senate President Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. in 2008, the proposed Picture-Based Health Warning Law seeks to increase the awareness of the public - especially among the youth - on the harmful and deadly effects of smoking. The bill, once passed into law, would require tobacco companies to, among others, display graphic images along with text warnings on their products depicting the dire consequences of smoking on one's health. Our Department of Health estimates that 87,000 Filipinos succumb annually from complications caused by cigarette smoking. In other words, ten Filipinos die every hour from cigarette-smoking related illnesses. And by the time I finish my speech, another five would have died. The research also indicates that one out of two Filipinos who smoke will die earlier than the average life expectancy. Further, cigarette-smoking costs our society an estimated P188 billion in annual health care expenses and productivity losses. Thus, cigarette smoking presents an economic burden and risk factors greater than those of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol.

Studies show that there are over four billion packs of cigarettes produced in our country yearly, and 17 million Filipinos currently smoke. These smokers consume 10.7 sticks of cigarettes per day on the average. Our country, therefore, registers one of the highest smoking incidences in the Western Pacific Region. Based on the National Nutrition and Health Survey II (NNHES, 2008), the incidence of smoking in the country remains high at 31%, which means that approximately 25 million Filipinos have smoked in the past or are currently smoking. In the 2009 Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), it is further estimated that more than 17 million of the population aged 15 years and above currently smoke tobacco.

In December 2012, we passed Republic Act No. 10351, now more commonly referred to as the Sin Tax Reform Law. We restructured the excise taxes on tobacco products with the aim of not only raising revenues but, above all else, to discourage smoking. It remains our vital duty to strengthen the government's efforts to discourage smoking and heighten the awareness of the consuming public on the harmful consequences of smoking.

Amidst a growing global trend towards strategically placing meaningful graphic images along with text warnings to cigarette cartons and other tobacco products, we in the Senate can do no less.

The benefits to a mandatory system of prominently displaying picture-based health warnings are clear and evident from the experience of other states and governments which already have this system in place.

For example, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine,[4] discussed the effectiveness of text-only labels vis-a-vis text and graphic labels on cigarette cartons and packs. This study yielded results showing that 26.3% think that text labels alone would be effective in deterring smoking, while 37.8% view that picture labels are effective.

Other studies, including that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have shown that the use of graphic images on packets have a significantly wider reach than text warnings, as images meaningfully resonate even with those who cannot and have difficulty reading.

With the decrease in the incidence of smoking in our country, there would be a corresponding drop in the number of smoking-related deaths and diseases. Ultimately, the passage of this proposed measure will bring closer to our goal of protecting the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Mr. President, I am a witness to the tragedy which cigarette smoking brings. And I do not wish it to happen to anyone in this hall.

I was once a smoker. And I do regret having picked up the habit. But a few months from now, it would be almost two decades since I last lit a cigarette. No regrets. I am glad I stopped.

Maraming salamat po.


[1] Foreword, p. v, WHO Convention on Tobacco Control
[2] , last accessed on 2 March 2014
[3] Resolution No. 24, 13th Congress, adopted April 25, 2005
[4] Study by O'Hegarty, Pederson, et al.

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