Congress ratifies graphic health warning bill

Jee Y. Geronimo
Congress ratifies graphic health warning bill
The ratified bicam version entitled 'The Graphic Health Warning Law' now awaits President Benigno Aquino III’s signature

MANILA, Philippines –The Senate and House of Representatives on the last day of session, Wednesday, June 11, ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the graphic health warning bill which seeks to place images of cancerous lungs and throats, among others, on cigarette packs.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the body for being one with me in pushing for this law which seeks to protect the health of the people, especially youth, against the health hazards that come with smoking,” Senator Pia Cayetano said when she presented the committee report before the Senate.

The Senate and House versions of the bill were approved on final reading last Monday, June 9, and reconciled in a bicameral conference on Tuesday, June 10. 

The ratified bicam version entitled “The Graphic Health Warning Law” now awaits President Benigno Aquino III’s signature.

The graphic health warning is expected to cause further decline in the number of Filipino smokers. (READ: Health or revenue? Senators weigh graphic health warning bill)

The Philippines is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires the implementation of “large, rotating health warnings on all tobacco product packaging and labeling.”

With 240 Filipinos dying every day due to major tobacco-related diseases, health advocates say picture-based warnings are also needed to warn Filipinos who cannot read or understand the current text warnings being used on cigarette packs.

Provisions

Once enacted, graphic health warnings will be placed on the lower portion of a cigarette pack, in at least 50% of both sides of the pack. A maximum of 12 variations of the warnings will be rotated every 24 months. (READ: Look, mate, scary cigarette packs!)

One year after the template is issued, all cigarette packs should already carry a graphic health warning. Manufacturers will be given 8 months to exhaust their stocks of packs that only bear text warnings.

The law places the responsibility of implementation on two government agencies: the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). DOH will issue the templates, while the DTI will hear complaints and determine administrative fines.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco, which was originally the implementing agency in the House version of the bill, will now monitor the tobacco industry’s compliance with the law.

Manufacturers, distributors, and importers who will not comply with the provisions of the law will be fined ranging from P500,000 to P2 million, while retailers will be fined ranging from P10,000 to P100,000.

Penalties also include imprisonment and revocation of business permit on third offense.

A committee, to be led by DTI and DOH, will draft and issue the law’s implementing rules and regulations 6 months after enactment, in consultation with non-governmental organizations, tobacco farmers, and tobacco industry representatives.

After 7 years

Dr Anthony Leachon, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, lauded the “staunch health advocates in the Senate and House of Representatives for doing everything to defend the law against the pressures of tobacco lobby.”

“After seven long years, we have finally seen the fruition of health advocates’ passionate resolve to veer the young away from this fatal smoking addiction,” he added. 

In a 2012 SWS survey, 77% of respondents said putting pictures of smoking-related diseases on cigarette packs will help decrease smoking. (INFOGRAPHIC: Imagining a world with no tobacco– Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.