ANTI-TOBACCO groups slammed Tuesday cigarette manufacturers for attempting to turn the proposed mandatory graphic health warnings (GHW) measure in their favor by having smaller picture requirements.

In a statement, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) accused the tobacco industry of lobbying to lawmakers for a "weaker" version of the GHW bills pending in Congress.

"We are concerned about a looming possibility that the GHW Bill may be made ineffective by unprecedentedly weak provisions such as small, ineffective warnings at the bottom of the pack," said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of SEATCA.

Last February, in SEATCA's Tobacco Industry Interference Index, it identified the Philippines as one of the countries in the region whose government is highly vulnerable to influence of the tobacco industry.

The SEATCA study noted how the country has no existing system that prohibits the industry from making political party contributions, while governments do not require full disclosure of such; allows governments to receive tobacco industry contributions (monetary or in kind) or endorse industry corporate social responsibility activities; and accepts assistance from the industry in implementing tobacco control policies.

"Countries with high levels of unnecessary interaction with the industry have high levels of tobacco industry participation in policy development," said SEATCA.

Because of this, the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) strongly appealed to Congress not to allow interference from the tobacco industry.

According to NVAP president Engr. Emer Rojas, mandatory graphic health warnings must comprise 60 percent of cigarette packs.

"Picture-based health warnings should cover as much of the principal display areas as possible, or at least 60 percent of the top of cigarette packs," said Rojas.

"Our legislators must protect and promote the fundamental rights to health and life and to reject the tobacco industry's unreasonable proposals for small warnings placed at the bottom of cigarette packs," he added.

He noted how the 60 percent coverage is consistent the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on GHW policies.

Rojas stressed that the Philippines is expected to follow the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as it is one of its signatories.

Earlier, no less than Senate President Franklin Drilon has already said the GHW bill is set to be passed by Congress before it adjourns later this month.

The WHO has already said that higher taxes for cigarette products teaming with graphic health warnings are the most efficient way to convince smokers to quit and dissuade people from initiating to smoke.

Based on the 2009 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), about 28 percent or 17.3 million Filipino adults, aged 15 years and older, are identified as tobacco smokers. (HDT/Sunnex)