Tobacco industry’s forked tongue strike at Philippines’ new smoke-free Executive Order

21 October 2016

By the end of October, the Philippines’ President Duterte will sign an Executive Order (EO) banning smoking in all public places. This EO will follow the Davao City smoke-free Ordinance in that it does not allow smoking in enclosed establishments and smokers can only smoke in open-air designated smoking areas.

President Duterte said he has been “aghast” at buildings designating indoor smoking areas just “to accommodate the smoker.” He had said, “That ain’t the way. It must be out. It’s not in a cubicle inside the building.”

The tobacco industry was quick to respond with a seemingly supportive statement. However it is a fork-tongue strike – while appearing to give the impression of “support”, in reality it is rejecting the new stringent EO.

The tobacco industry wants the old weak law to apply. Its representative, Philippine Tobacco Institute Inc. (PTI) pointed out that Republic Act 9211 already prohibits smoking in specific public places, and mandates the establishment of smoking areas. The PTI said, “There is a law that regulates public smoking, and we agree it should be strictly enforced.” In other words, no need for the new EO.

BAT responded in concert by supporting the existing weak RA9211, stating “Such bans are already being implemented throughout the country at varying degrees of enforcement, as already enshrined in Republic Act (RA) No. 9211. It just wants a more “uniform enforcement” of the old weak law across the local municipalities.

This is typical of the tobacco industry undermining any new stringent tobacco control measure and making misleading statements to suit its purpose.

On cue, pro-tobacco media jumped on the industry’s bandwagon and told a story of gloom and doom for the industry. One report actually says the smoke-free EO will turn Philip Morris, which controls three quarters (74%) of the Philippines cigarette market, into an ash heap.

However the report was silent on how cigarette advertising and promotions (discounts) are still allowed at retailers, retailers are ubiquitous and unlicensed, single stick sales are allowed and that cigarettes are still very cheap and accessible to the poor and minors.

There are about 17 million smokers in the Philippines and this habit costs the economy nearly US$4 billion in health care cost and productivity losses every year.

In 2015, about 90 billion cigarette sticks were sold in the Philippines. This year the industry is expecting to sell 91 billion sticks, which will increase to 98 billion sticks in 2020. In the next few years, tobacco manufacturers are expected to continue improving their profitability.

Thumbs-Up to the Philippines government for strengthening tobacco control measures!