Thursday July 19, 2018

Malilong: Smoking ban

COMPLAINING cigarette smokers should consider themselves lucky that President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 26 penalizes the violation of the smoking ban only with a fine. As a non-smoker who inevitably develops cold and a runny nose after inhaling second-hand smoke, I would have preferred a jail term for inconsiderate nicotine addicts.

“Smoking ban” is a misnomer because what Duterte actually prohibited was smoking in public places and enclosed spaces. Smokers can still enjoy their poison but not in a way that would cause harm to others. The EO’s message is that you can still commit suicide but don’t drag the innocent along your way to perdition.

The challenge now is in enforcing the ban especially since many law enforcement officers are themselves smokers. Neither can you trust the local officials, many of whom also smoke. (Are government buildings and police camps considered public places under EO 26?) Their attitude will be lukewarm since they’d most probably be unwilling to kick the habit and set the lead for obedience to a lawful order.

Duterte must have foreseen these obstacles, drawing from his experience when he enforced a similar ban when he was mayor of Davao City. In EO 26, he created a Smoke Free Task Force to implement his order and asked for civilian volunteers to apprehend and charge violators.

I ask fellow suffering passive smokers to join the task force, once it is organized after the issuance by the Department of Health of the implementing rules and regulations. It will be payback time, fellow smoking victims. What a pleasure it would be helping the government get richer by five thousand pesos by arresting someone who has tortured you for years with his smoke-billowing mouth. En flagrante, of course.

Incidentally, a few days after the announcement on the issuance of EO 26, another country, almost seven thousand miles away, struck another mortal blow to the smoking business. Starting last Sunday, a new set of rules on the packaging of cigarets was enforced in the United Kingdom.

It is now illegal to sell branded cigarettes in the U.K. Cigarette packs will be in uniform drab dark brown, said to be world’s ugliest color. The packs are not allowed to display any logos, promotional images or indications of the cigarette’s flavor. Instead, they will carry in 65% of each pack’s total space, dire warnings on and graphic images of the health hazards from smoking such as, according to the Liverpool Echo, tar-stained lungs.

The British tobacco industry, led by giants Imperial and British American Tobacco, fought to stop the plain packaging law, claiming that it constituted disproportionate government control over their trademarks without just compensation. The courts threw away the argument, however.

Would a similar rule have a chance of being implemented in the Philippines? Let me answer that with another question, two questions actually: How many millions of pesos are being spent for cigarette advertising in the Philippines? Have you heard of the tobacco lobby?