THE New York-based Bloomberg Philantrophies has approved a P9.5 million grant to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to finance an anti-tobacco use program aimed at making Metro Manila a 100 percent smoke-free region by 2012.

MMDA Chairman Oscar Inocentes said the agency signed recently a two-year agreement with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, or The Union, approving the implementation of the MMDA’s two-year project, “Enforcement of a 100 percent Smoke Free Environment Policy in Metro Manila.”

Click here for Election 2010 updates

The Union, a French-based non-profit scientific organization involved in a worldwide campaign to promote lung health, has endorsed for funding the MMDA’s project proposal to Bloomberg Philantrophies, the umbrella organization that manages the charitable institutions of billionaire entrepreneur-turned-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“We take pride in being chosen by The Union and the Bloomberg Philantrophies to lead this anti-smoking campaign. With the active participation of the local government units and our private sector partners, and with sustained, no-nonsense enforcement of Republic Act 9211, it is not impossible to achieve our goal of a smoke-free Metro Manila in two years’ time,” Inocentes said.

RA 9211, or The Tobacco Regulation Act, was enacted by Congress on 2003 to primarily regulate the packaging, use, sale, and distribution of harmful tobacco products.

Inocentes said the MMDA’s proposal was one of only five of the 35 project proposals submitted by several countries and approved by The Union for review of its panel of international experts.

With the Union’s recommendation, Bloomberg Philantrophies agreed to provide MMDA a financial grant of US$206,701 (P9.5 million).

Bloomberg’s grant programme was launched in December 2006 to support the development and delivery of high-impact tobacco control interventions at the country level.

Dra. Loida Labao, Chief Environmental Management Specialist and head of the Plans and Programs Development and Monitoring Division of the Metropolitan Sanitation Management Office (MSMO), the MMDA office that submitted the project proposal to The Union, said the two-year program officially starts on July 1, 2010 up to June 20, 2012.

“Basically, what we will do is to strictly enforce RA 9211 in the entire Metro Manila, which prohibits smoking in public places. To start with we will be enforcing a no-smoking policy within the MMDA premises. Employees caught smoking will be charged administratively. We want to make MMDA a model smoke-free workplace,” Labao said.

The first part of the two-year program is the “building capacity enforcement” phase where the MMDA-MSMO will conduct a series of advocacy meetings and planning workshops with the 16 cities and one municipality of Metro Manila to get them to enact their own anti-smoking ordinance in their respective jurisdictions.

“We will train our traffic enforcers and those from the LGUs, and even members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the enforcement of the provisions of RA 9211. One option we’re studying is to incorporate anti-smoking apprehensions into the single ticketing system of Metro Manila and the MMDA,” Labao pointed out.

Moreover, Labao said the MSMO will undertake reviews of existing laws on regulation of tobacco use passed by the local city councils.

The MMDA-MSMO will also develop a marketing and communications plan to support the achievement of smoke-free policy goals in the LGUs.

These include publication of the smoke-free ordinances in newspapers, posting of signage along the seven major thoroughfares in Metro Manila and in all public utility vehicles and mass rail systems.

“Transforming Metro Manila into a smoke-free community is very doable. We just have to make people understand that smoking is extremely dangerous not only to the smokers’ health but to every one of us. A healthy Metro Manila is a healthy and progressive Philippines,” Inocentes added. (AH/Sunnex)