MANILA — As the Philippines observes the No Smoking Month this June, Senator Pia Cayetano assured smooth passage of the bill requiring cigarette packs to bear picture-based health warnings before the Senate’s sine die adjournment on June 11.
“After accommodating several amendments last week, we are looking forward to the bill’s passage on second reading in the first week of June, and possibly, on third and final reading before June 11,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano, principal author of Senate Bill No. 27, or the proposed Picture-Based Health Warning Act of 2014, thanked colleagues for supporting her bill that reached the plenary for the first time.
“In all my years of being its main advocate in the Senate, this is the very first time that the Graphic Health Warning Bill has reached this stage. I am happy and excited, and admittedly still quite surprised by how far we have gone,” Cayetano said.
She recalled that in the last 14th and 15th Congresses, the earlier versions of the measure never got past second reading.
“Incidentally, the bill’s landmark approval could come as the country observes No Smoking Month and the opening of classes this June. These occasions can be tied in to the main objective of this bill which is to reduce the incidence of smoking among Filipinos – especially among our youth,” she noted.
She pointed out that young students start lighting up a cigarette stick as early as 12 or 13 years old and become addicted to the habit until their adulthood without really realizing the long-term consequences of smoking on their health and to the people around them who inhale second-hand smoke.
Last week, Cayetano agreed to accept several proposals amending SBN 27 from Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who earlier raised concerns on the negative consequences of the bill on the tobacco industry during the period of interpellations.
Among the major amendments Cayetano upheld is the reduction in the size requirement for the picture-based health warning from 60 percent to 50 percent of the principal display areas in both the front and back panels of the tobacco package.
Enrile initially wanted to give cigarette manufacturers some latitude by proposing a range of between 30 and 50 percent of the display area for the graphic warning.
However, both senators agreed to fix the size requirement at 50 percent after consultation.
The lady senator also agreed with Enrile to set ‘a maximum of 16 variations’ of picture-based health warnings, which will be printed on cigarette packs and rotated for a two-year period, from the bill’s original proposal to set ‘a minimum of 8 variations’ that will be required by the Department of Health (DOH).
Cayetano, however, rejected an Enrile proposal to appoint the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) instead of the DOH as the body mandated to draw up the guidelines for the measure, including the templates for the picture-based health warnings that must be followed by tobacco manufacturers.
The IAC-T is a policymaking body created under the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 where the Department of Trade and Industry sits as chair, the DOH as vice chair, and where the tobacco industry sits as one of the regular members.
Previously, in her own committee amendments, Cayetano agreed to lengthen the compliance period to one year from 90 days as previously proposed under the bill for cigarette companies to print the picture-based health warnings upon the issuance of the templates by the DOH.
It may be recalled that during the committee hearings and the interpellations, the lady senator had agreed to consider more realistic deadlines to allow cigarette manufacturers to adopt the new labelling requirements once the measure is passed into law.