Health officials are aiming to release the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the nationwide smoking ban under Executive Order 26 before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address in the third week of July.  The ban, however, is already being implemented.

“We’re hoping that the IRR will come out before the 60 days outlined in the EO for implementation. It will hopefully be out by July 16 or before SONA,” Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial told reporters during a press conference following the World No Tobacco Day celebration at Bayleaf Hotel, Manila.

The President signed the long-awaited EO on May 16. The order is meant to promote smoke-free environments.

Free hand in EO implementation

To help monitor compliance, Secretary Ubial is encouraging local government units (LGUs) to craft their own local ordinances in line with the EO.

“The LGUs are encouraged to pass local ordinances that are very specific in terms of how they will implement the EO and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and to also identify people that will enforce it,” she told media.

The EO’s implementation, patterned after Davao City’s local anti-smoking ordinance, includes identification of people who will work hands-on and on the ground. The department says that these personnel are key in ensuring the EO’s enactment.

The IRR will include the specifics and clear outline for related matters such as e-cigarettes, vapes, and possibly, alternative livelihood and income source for tobacco product vendors.  

However, DOH emphasized that even before the release of IRR, the EO is already implementable.

The EO bans smoking in areas populated by minors, as well as elevators and stairwells, public and private hospitals, food preparation areas and places that are considered fire hazards.

No need to scale back

LGUs with existing, stricter no-smoking ordinances need not scale back their rules as long it has the FCTC as point of reference, since the Philippines is among the countries that ratified it.

These stricter ordinances could continue, noted the Secretary.

A global trend-setter, the FCTC under the World Health Organization, was developed in response to the widening reach of the tobacco epidemic. It seeks to protect citizens from tobacco smoke, regulates tobacco product contents, addresses packaging and labeling of such products, and create public awareness.

“Because of local autonomy, the LGUs are given a free hand on how they implement national laws. They can be stricter in terms of implementation because we have the framework convention as the reference,” she added.

What the department is really looking into are LGUs without existing ordinances.

Tobacco casualties more than 3 diseases combined

Yearly, tobacco use results in more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria victims’ combined, with an estimated 87,000 people in the Philippines.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2015), there are 15.9 million Filipino smokers, a majority of which are men.

Though the rate has gone down compared with GATS 2009 findings of over 17 million smokers, still, a significant number of Filipinos will still face irreversible health damage in the coming years.

Presently, tobacco-related hospitalizations and productivity losses run up to Php 271 billion pesos, according to DOH.

Further, the cost of a single pack of the cheapest tobacco product in the country is enough to bring a family of four 38 cups of uncooked rice good for 5 days.

“Tobacco use takes money from a family’s budget for basic needs such as food, education, and shelter,” the department emphasized.

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On E-cigarettes, vapes

Meanwhile, Secretary Ubial noted there were very few studies regarding the effect of vaping as a second-hand smoke source, and added most research are centered on its effects on individual users.

As of now, “there is an advisory that [its use] is harmful (FDA). In terms of implementation, we are looking if we can include it in the IRR,” she said.

The department also revealed their intention to bring technology to the country which can detect nicotine or vapors or particles in the air, as this will help them ensure 100 percent smoke-free areas.

Further, DOH is reiterating that the EO  makes no distinction on establishments covered by the EO. Whether it’s a nightclub or a casino, there is one designated area of smoking per building and prohibited in places where food is prepared.

Alternative livelihood

Another plan cited by the Health chief is to provide alternative income to those who will be affected by the EO, such as vendors.

 “All these concerns were addressed, there was no displacement in terms of ambulant vendors. They did not lose economically because of the local ordinance,” she said.

In Davao, former cigarette vendors were given their own sources of livelihood so they won’t have to resort to cigarette-peddling. They now sell fruits and other commodities.

Still, talks are ongoing about a nationwide programme that shall be in cooperation with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

No value added

DOH, apart from cooperating with the DILG,  is likewise partnering with the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the EO's implementation.

Major partners include the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Philippine Ports Authority, Land Transportation Office, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, aviation and maritime industries, Department of Tourism, Office of the President, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Justice, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Education, and Civil Service Commission.

In addressing the lack of a representative from the tobacco industry, Secretary Ubial said, “we don’t think that [their] representation will add value to the EO.”

The DOH, being the lead agency in the enforcement of the comprehensive smoking ban, is committed to impose tobacco control measures and ensure its strict implementation and 100 percent compliance towards a smoke-free Philippines. MIMS

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