Health group hits Fortune Tobacco for blocking DoH order



By Anna Valmero

TAYUMAN, METRO MANILA – A health advocacy group criticized Fortune Tobacco Corp. for questioning in court the order of the Department of Health (DoH) to put pictures of health warnings in cigarette and tobacco packages.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP) said that Fortune Tobacco’s petition for “declaratory relief”, with application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed on June 3 against DoH, is an attempt to block the implementation of Administrative Order No. 13, which requires graphic health information to replace textual health warnings on tobacco packages.

The health order specifies that at least 50 percent of the area of the front and back side of tobacco packages, where brand names are printed, should have pictures of the ill effects of the 60 carcinogens in cigarettes such as heart attack, lung cancer and impotence, among others.

The DoH order, issued on May 24, also requires printing of information that nicotine, a by-product unique to tobacco, leads the smoker to addiction. “As expected, the tobacco industry tries to block the order by filing the petition even before the AO is implemented,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, FCAP executive director.

The petition of Fortune Tobacco is being heard before the Marikina Regional Trial Court Branch 272 by Hon. Justice Felix P. Reyes. The next hearing is on June 21.

“This action of the tobacco industry confirms the effectiveness of pictures to control cigarette smoking among the youth, who are the primary target of tobacco marketing. The industry will naturally move heaven and earth to refuse the printing of pictures in cigarette packs because this will effectively ruin their most vital marketing platforms, the product packages,” explained Limpin.

Limpin said reaching out to the younger generation was touted by the industry itself as the way to better profits. “They are called replacement smokers since smokers die young,” she said.

“One Filipino dies every six minutes due to tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer. And it is estimated that smoking exacts a P200 billion toll on the country due to health costs and productivity losses, in comparison to the P30B revenues gained from taxes paid by the tobacco industry,” stressed health chief Esperanza Cabral.

In the country, a total of 17.3 million Filipinos aged 15 years old and above are smokers. Of the total, at least 13.8 million smoke daily, according to the first Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) found.

Another study by DoH also revealed that at least an hour of exposure to second hand smoke or passive smoking causes one in five heart attacks in Metro Manila. At least half of the Metro’s population are exposed to ill effects of passive smoking, said the World Lung Foundation and International Union
Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union).

“We cannot see why they cannot comply with the AO when these companies export tobacco products to Thailand and other countries following the prescribed graphic health warnings on the packages. They have the means to print the images. And it should have been done in September 2008. We will not give them a chance to delay again the implementation of these graphic warnings on cigarette packs,” said Limpin.

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