Graphic health warning bill passes final reading in Congress

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed their versions of the graphic health warning bill on third and final reading Monday, June 9.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 27 with 18 affirmative votes, no abstentions and no negative votes, while the House of Representatives passed House Bill 4590 with 210 affirmative votes, no abstentions and no negative votes.

Both houses will convene a bicameral conference committee on the graphic health warning bill on Tuesday, June 10.

Lawmakers hold bicameral meetings to settle conflicting provisions of a bill. Once the versions are reconciled, both houses of Congress have to ratify the bicam report first before the final bill is transmitted to Malacañang.

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

The graphic health warning bill is seen as a necessary supporting law to the country's sin tax law as it can help bring about a further decline in the number of Filipino smokers. 

About 240 Filipinos die every day (87,600 premature deaths per year) because of major tobacco-related diseases. (INFOGRAPHIC: Imagining a world with no tobacco)

Differences

Senator Pia Cayetano, principal author and sponsor of the bill's Senate version, said graphic health warnings placed in front of a cigarette pack will deter smokers from “starting the vice and being addicted to it,” and will encourage current smokers to quit.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, co-author and co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill is needed to address health care expenses and productivity losses due to smoking – an annual estimate of P188 billion. 

He also urged the proper wording of the accompanying text warning “so that an ordinary layman will understand what the picture is about – the ill-effects of smoking.” (READ: Smoking kills: Senators want to show you how)

Below is a table showing some differences between the two versions, based on copies of the bills provided to Rappler:

 

The prescribed size in the Senate version of the bill was set following an amendment introduced by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. (READ: Health or revenue? Senators weigh graphic health warning bill)

The House version, meanwhile, mandates for the pictures to be evidence-based, accurately and truthfully depicting the health hazards of tobacco products, as determined by the existing Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) .

Akbayan Representative Ibarra Gutierrez III, who filed the original House version of the bill, said the approved version may not have all the features they initially pushed for, but it is still "a firm step in the right direction."

Health advocates, however, criticize the "watered down" lower house version of the bill, which seeks to mandate that only 40% of the bottom part of cigarette packs will be covered with the image. It also gives the responsibility of implementation to IAC-T.

"Since its creation, IAC-T has also failed to champion the health of Filipinos given that its mandate is to 'balance the interest of trade and health' and its membership includes the tobacco industry itself, the Philippine Tobacco Institute," HealthJustice said in a statement Monday.

The group launched a Change.org petition supporting the Senate version of the bill, which has since gained 3,504 supporters as of this posting.

Members of Tuesday's bicameral committee will include senators Pia Cayetano, Alan Cayetano, Tito Sotto, and representatives Ibarra Gutierrez III, Eufranio Eriguel, Ronald Singson, Rogelio Espina, and Leah Paquiz. – Rappler.com

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.

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