The Philippines: CHR calls for mandatory health warnings on cigarette packs

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Monday, January 20, called for the mandatory placement of graphic health warnings on cigarette packs emphasizing the public’s right to information on health.

CHR commissioner Cecilia Rachel Quisumbing said everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

“Right to health is also related to our right to dignity. From direct personal experience, we all know that without health we will find it difficult to work or study to the level that we want. Those with grave illnesses or disabilities are discriminated against by their employers and society in general,” Quisumbing added.

On Friday, January 17, CHR, the New Vois Association of the Philippines, and other health advocates also held the “Right to Health Walk III” march from Philcoa to the CHR compound in Quezon City to push for the advocacy.

Prevention better than cure

The Philippines is one of the 168 signatories of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which requires countries to “implement large, rotating health warnings on all tobacco product packaging and labeling.”

Quisumbing stressed that graphic warnings are considered effective preventive measures in other countries. She also called for the passage of a Graphic Label Law to help “inform the people of the effects of smoking and will help people make their own choices.”

“We need information in order to make good choices for our health. A graphic label law and the implementation of this will cost the government nothing, but you have information, an informed society and hopefully, better health,” she added.

House Bill 3686 was already filed in the House of Representatives by Akbayan Party-list representative Barry Gutierrez III. If passed into law, it will require all manufacturers, importers and distributors of cigarettes to use graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging.

Gutierrez said he is hopeful the bill will be passed like the Sin Tax.

“85% of each cigarette packs should display health warnings in pictures. It is proven that images are more effective than just plain texts in discouraging the people, including the youth to start smoking,” he added.

Department of Health (DOH) assistant secretary Enrique Tayag also expressed support for the passage of the Graphic Label Law.

Health and productivity

Quisimbing said that both the government and the business sector should prioritize the public’s right to health.

According to her, the effects of tobacco smoking on smokers and on others who inhale second-hand smoke result to millions of pesos wasted annually on lost productivity and on health care costs.

“We do not want to deprive people of their individual freedom to choose. We do not want to deprive corporations of profit, but we do want to protect people as much as possible including by educating and informing them,” she clarified. –