I can still remember the first time I tried to stop someone from puffing out cigarette smoke inside a bus, the smoker rebuffed and scoffed at me. I asked to please do his smoking outside for the sake of others inside the bus waiting for its departure. But he retorted saying that instead, I should be the one to go out. He even added it is time that all of us have equal rights inside the bus. I told the bus conductor but even he couldn’t do anything until the smoker finished his stick.
History tells that the campaign against smoking tobacco is already centuries-old. There may be some successes but as can be observed, the anti-smoking campaign hasn’t yet triumphed. From my high school days, I still remember that humorous ad from which our teacher who wanted us to make a reaction paper. The ad calls on smokers to puff more and join a promo in which every smoker is a sure winner from “consolation prizes” of bad breath, stained teeth, and some minor illnesses to the first prize of “brand new cancer” that may go with a coffin. I believe that anyone who would be asked to join the promo would be scared. But the reality reflects a society that ignores the health consequences of smoking. Many countries’ fact sheet would reveal millions of people dying from smoking-related causes. In the Philippines, the news would often cite a study that says ten Filipinos die every hour from illnesses caused by cigarette smoking.
There have been local ordinances that prohibit smoking. But looking around, one could see a smoker freely burning a cigarette and clouding a park, in a bus terminal, and other public places. Some establishments are strict about “no smoking” in their premises but others, say restaurants, would have wider smoking areas or has smoking areas very approximate to non-smoking areas rendering the separation useless. And many non-smokers would just be passive about apprehending smokers out of friendliness or fear of being sneered upon by the smoker.
The government surely is spending billions of pesos for health care, many of which are smoking-related diseases. And it is apparently unfair that non-smoking taxpayers would share the burden for the health care of smokers. There had been the imposition of the so-called “sin-tax” on cigarettes. But I wonder if the revenue raised by the government from it would be enough for the billions being spent on reviving the sick from smoking. Another purpose of the “sin tax” is to raise prices of cigarettes but obviously, the current prices are still within the reach of smokers.
As a non-smoker, I was glad about the signing of the country’s president of an executive order promoting smoke-free environments in public and enclosed places. The order referred to every person’s right to health as embodied in the Constitution. It also cited laws like the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 and the Tobacco Regulation of 2003. It did not totally ban smoking but limits and provides strict rules regarding designated smoking areas.
It is already in effect some two weeks ago. There were apparent improvements as smokers became aware of the heavy fines. I knew some smokers who changed their habit of freely lighting their cigarette even in crowded places. They would go designated smoking areas thus would not affect the non-smokers. There were still some though who would try to hide, say in comfort rooms, which are not supposedly smoking areas. Probably, there are still a lot of unnoticed violations of this nationwide order. But still, it is a huge step in the anti-smoking campaign.
I hope the implementation of the smoking ban won’t be a victim of ningas –cogon. But instead, would lead to more actions that would totally stop smoking or at least somewhere near that objective. Perhaps, some more legislation is needed. For instance, the imposition of excise taxes (“sin taxes”) should really be in a way that is enough to cover the damages that smoking does to people’s health and make smoking be not within the reach of potential smoking victims. I also observed political will of local authorities to implement the no smoking policy and I hope that such would be sustained. And I hope that everyone internalizes the danger of smoking so that non-smokers wouldn’t have to fight with smokers for a smoke-free environment.
By Lorna Dulnuan-Kinnud