Groups demand stronger tobacco controls

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

Social Watch Philippines (SWP) and the Philippine Smoke-Free Movement (PSFM) are urging local government units (LGUs) to pass strict tobacco control ordinances to protect children’s health and well-being, citing alarming statistics and the tobacco industry’s persistent targeting of youth.

Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a group advocating for smoke-free and vape-free environments, has called on LGUs to implement stringent tobacco control measures.

According to Dr. Ma. Victoria R. Raquiza, SWP Co-Convenor, children are most vulnerable to the risk of smoking.

“Based on the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), one in every seven students aged 13-15 years old is already using e-cigarettes daily. Cigarettes and most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that harms children’s learning, memory, and attention. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry deliberately targets the younger generation despite these dangers,” Raquiza said.

Raquiza emphasized the importance of aligning local policies with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). This includes indoor smoking and vaping bans, task force formation, budget allocation, and stricter penalties for violators. Raquiza also highlighted the need for investment in local research, cessation programs, and awareness campaigns to design effective interventions.

Citing Baguio City as a success story, Raquiza noted a significant drop in tobacco use from 35.4% in 2014 to 13.1% in 2022 due to local ordinances.

SWP warned LGUs about the deceptive tactics of the tobacco industry, referencing the 2023 Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which tracks the growing influence of the tobacco industry in the Philippines.

“The tobacco industry hides its actions behind strategic donations and sponsorships, especially targeting vulnerable communities. With child-friendly flavors and lax age restrictions on e-commerce platforms, LGUs must act to protect our children’s future,” Raquiza asserted.

SWP commended LGUs that observed World No Tobacco Day, recognizing their commitment to safeguarding children’s rights to tobacco-free environments.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Smoke-Free Movement (PSFM), a 100-member coalition dedicated to promoting smoke-free and vape-free policies, called on the government to take a decisive stand against tobacco industry interference to protect children.

“According to the Department of Health, cigarettes and e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that can cause inflammation, respiratory disease, genetic damage, and cancer. Exposure to such substances at a young age may also weaken the immune system,” said PSFM National Coordinator Rizza Duro.

Duro highlighted the increasing trend of tobacco industry interference in the country, pointing to the 2023 Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which shows a troubling rise in the Philippines’ score from 38 in 2016 to 60 in 2023.

The 2023 Asia Regional TII Index ranks the Philippines seventh among countries failing to curb industrialization in Asia.

“We’ve seen a glaring failure in policy implementation and the passage of pro-industry legislation, such as the vape regulation law. Laws designed to prevent unnecessary engagements with the tobacco industry, like WHO FCTC 5.3 and CSC-DOH JMC 2010-01, are shamelessly violated,” Duro said. “We have failed to stop the industry, failed to protect our children, and left them vulnerable and defenseless.”

Duro urged the government to hold public servants accountable for their unnecessary involvement with the tobacco industry and stressed the importance of closing policy gaps and strictly enforcing laws to protect children.

“According to the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, one in every seven students aged 13-15 uses tobacco products—an age group younger than what is allowed by existing laws. This highlights the industry’s targeted efforts toward our children and youth. Our government needs to move beyond rhetoric and act now. The future of our children depends on our ability to counter tobacco industry influence effectively,” Duro asserted.

PSFM called for raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21, transferring regulatory authority over vaping products from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), limiting vape flavors to menthol and tobacco, and banning online sales.

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