Why Albay seeks Guinness for human no-smoking logo

MANILA, Philippines – Gathering more than 13,000 people to form a giant “No Smoking” sign on Friday, June 28, was not Albay’s first attempt to vie for a world record.

In 1999, a local artist tried to put the province in the Guinness Book by stuffing down a record volume of hot pepper in one sitting.

There’s reason, however, for Filipinos – not just Albayanos – to be proud of the attempt to form the world’s biggest human no-smoking logo at the Bicol University grounds in Legazpi City.

In a country where the tobacco lobby is strongest, as acknowledged by the international community, Albay stands proud as one of the few localities that have passed and strictly implemented smoking bans.

As of May 2012, the Department of Health (DOH) says, only 146 of the 1,714 local governent units in the country have anti-smoking policies that comply with all or some of the provisions of the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003.

In Albay, only 5 of 18 cities and municipalities have passed smoke-free ordinances. These are local laws that:

So to make the smoke-free initiative more extensive, the provincial board passed an ordinance last year.

Mayor is non-smoker

Now, all of Albay is covered by the smoking ban, even in public vehicles. Locals love to tell this story: that once buses or jeepneys from neighboring provinces cross over the boundary of Albay, the drivers remind their passengers: “Bawal na po manigarilyo rito sa Albay.” (You cannot smoke anymore, we’re in Albay.)

Legazpi City – where the human no-smoking logo was formed – has its own comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. Its success is attributed by local journalists to the fact that “the mayor doesn’t smoke.”

Mayor Noel Rosal is known to notify individual store owners of the advertising ban as soon as he sees signages showing cigarette brands, and have them taken down. His outright refusal of the P500,000 cash offered by a tobacco firm representative for his “projects” is also widely known.

The multi-sectoral campaign to make Albay smoke-free has gained enough credibility that, Rappler learned, it somehow influenced Guinness into creating the new category for no-smoking logos.

A month ago, people behind Guinness sent the provincial government of Albay an invitation to vie for the world record for the biggest human logo – any logo. Any attempt should be able to gather at least 34,000 persons.

Albay knew it wouldn’t stand a chance in a worldwide contest that expects undetermined types and numbers of logos to enter, and such huge number of minimum heads required.

The multi-sectoral Smoke-Free Albay Network (SFAN), formed by Gov Joey Salceda, then told the search committee they were entering a human no-smoking logo. Guinness reportedly decided: why not make that into a separate category altogether?

Tobacco control is a worldwide advocacy anyway. The first ever international treaty on public health is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, signed in 2003. The Philippines is among the 176 signatory countries. 

Thus was born the contest for the largest human no-smoking logo, where a minimum of 250 persons were required to form an entry.

Deaths due to tobacco

SFAN secretary Rose Olarte-Orbita said 15,003 showed up to participate. Only 13,892 fit in the giant logo that shows a lit cigarette stick "stamped" with the red circle-and-slash symbol for anything prohibited.

Albayons timed their attempt on June 28, the day provincial officials were to sign the implementing rules and regulations for the Albay Smoke-Free Ordinance. It was also a fitting ending to June, which Malacañang had declared as No Smoking Month in the Philippines.

Provincial Board Member Herbert Borja, who chairs the SFAN, told Rappler that this attempt is not just for the province’s pride.

“We want to increase the people’s awareness that smoking is the most preventable cause of diseases. If an Albayano stops or doesn’t start the habit of smoking, it will result in healthful living and big savings. It will contribute to a healthful environment. We want to gain support for the smoke-free ordinance,” Borja said.

In an earlier talk with local journalists in Legazpi, Dr Maricar Limpin of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance said that, in 2011 the number one cause of death in the Bicol region was respiratory diseases, “related to the use of tobacco.”

Nationwide, 10 Filipinos die every hour from tobacco-related diseases. That's 240 deaths a day.

Limpin said every cigarette stick contains 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer and are found in batteries, paints, insecticides, and car exhausts.

“We hope to win a world record,” Borja said, because ultimately this campaign “affects every Filipino.” – Rappler.com