NATIONAL SMOKING BAN
Does it have you choking on air?
−−M.Pirante Perez is a 30-year-old journalist for a weekly local news magazine. And as how writers are usually romanticized in old movies, Perez starts his day with a quick puff on a cigarette. Because of the demands of his job—looking out for stories, interviewing high-profile officials, and the actual writing itself that often gives him restless days and sleepless nights—perez needs a regular push. Others get that push from coffee. Others from food binges. Perez gets his from cigarettes.
As he arrives at the agreed meeting place, he empties his pockets before settling down: car keys, some pens, candies, and of course, there’s that pack of cigarettes. And the first thing he says is that he is a helluva smoker. “When I wake up, I smoke. After I finish a meal, I smoke again.
‘Pag busog ka kasi, when you smoke, parang bumababa ‘yung kinain mo.
So after ng meal, nag-i-smoke ako ‘di ba? Pagpasok ko sa CR, ayan, smoke ako roon ulit. Then when I leave the house and go to work, kapag nasa car na ako, yosi ulit.”
He smokes a pack a day. “A good half of the pack will be smoked in the office. And the remainder of that will be at home when I am trying to polish an article that’s due,” he says. “I am, without a doubt, a heavy smoker.”
“So how do you feel about the smoking ban?” we ask.
“Man, that question makes me want to puff a cigarette right now.”
Smoking is dangerous to your health—but nobody’s Stopping you
Last May President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 26, the nationwide smoking ban. It provides
“for the establishment of smoke-free environments in public and enclosed spaces,” which means you can’t smoke in “enclosed public spaces and public conveyances, whether stationary or in motion, except in Designated Smoking Areas (DSA).” The order applies “to all persons, whether resident or not, and in all places, found with the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines.”
The order, apparently, is in compliance with a World Health Organization treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, enforced in 2005, of which we are a party. This is apart from our own Clean Air Act of 1999, which already prohibits smoking “inside enclosed public places, including public vehicles and other means of transport, and other enclosed areas”, and ultimately, the Constitution itself, which declares that the “State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people...”
“Hindi pa ba obvious?” says Dr. Anthony Dans, a pulmonologist and professor at the UP College of Medicine, “The smoking ban is implemented to protect people.”
Dr. Dans says there are 46 life-threatening diseases related to smoking, among them chronic kidney diseases, pneumonia, heart diseases, stroke, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive lung diseases. “Hindi lang ‘yung smoker who is protected. Ang
maganda pa roon, pati ‘yung passive smokers are protected. Sila ‘yung mga hindi naman naninigarilyo. Hindi naman
nila choice manigarilyo and yet they’re exposed to those 46 diseases kasi people beside them smoke.”
Dr. Dans is backed by important data. According to the Philippine Cancer Society, it is estimated that around 3,000 non-smoking Filipino adults die every year because of lung cancer, which they may have gotten from inhaling secondhand smoke. On the other hand, figures from the Department of Health show that an estimated 71,850 Filipinos (or eight people every hour) are killed by tobaccorelated diseases every year. The DOH also reports that diseases from smoking costs the Philippine economy more than P188 billion) in health care costs and productivity losses every year. (See panel for other statistics)
But Atty. Jose Angelo David, a constitutional law professor at San Beda College of Law, makes it clear that EO 26 does not stop anybody from smoking. In fact, David notes that the “choice to smoke” is indeed subsumed under a person’s “right to liberty” as guaranteed under Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” The Supreme Court has described this “right to liberty” as the “opportunity to do those things which are ordinarily done by free men.”
‘Pakitaan mo ako ng isang Tao, isa lang, na sumama ang ugali o naging Bayolente kakasigarilyo. siguro kapag hindi mo Binigyan ng sigarilyo, ayan magiging Bayolente sila. BUT sabihin mong nasobrahan sa yosi, nagwala?! you’ve never heard anything like That.’
“The sentiment of smokers is understandable. There is no denying that the Clean Air Act of 1999, the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, and EO 26 do restrict, to some extent, do restrict the right and liberty of individuals to choose whether or not to smoke,” Atty. David says. “But these restrictions, however, are not unreasonable. In the Philippine Constitution, for as long as a government act or regulation is not unreasonable, it will not be struck down as ‘unconstitutional’ and it is not considered in violation of a person’s rights.”
Where is the designated Smoking area?
“Akala ba nila madaling talikuran ang pagyoyosi? After 30 minutes to an hour, you get edgy, you tap your feet like what I’m doing right now,” says an agitated Perez. We notice it. We ask if he’d like to smoke outside. But then again…
“Where’s the DSA?” Perez asks. “This mall, like most malls, do not provide a DSA. Now tell me, how is that fair? Why are they not here? You cannot expect us to follow it and not give us clear provisions on where to smoke.
Punyeta, that’s kalokohan.” We’re with Perez in a coffee shop at a popular mall in Makati. Prior to the smoking ban, he says he would always go there to unwind and have a puff or two with a friend or a new acquaintance. But he says the place, which used to be an old reliable, now feels like a trusted friend who’d just turned his back on him.
“One time, I was smoking in what I assumed to be their DSA dahil open air tapos malayo sa crowd. Tapos sinabihan
ako ng guard, ‘Sir, no smoking area ‘to.’ Ang sagot ko, ‘Where’s the Designated Smoking Area? If you cannot provide me a smoking area, hindi mo ako pwedeng hulihin for smoking. [This mall] is also in violation of Executive Order No. 26… Until such time you can produce [a DSA], you cannot enforce it on me or any other smokers.”
As you probably can tell, Perez wasn’t chill at all then. Still, he wasn’t exactly right about the mall violating EO 26 for not having a DSA.
“No, it is not a violation,” Atty. David says. “The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and EO 26 do not require or oblige private individuals or establishments to provide for a DSA. In fact, somewhere in Section 4 of EO 26, it states that persons-in-charge of these establishments can provide for regulations stricter than those found in the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and EO 26.”
The Order states that a DSA may be in an open space or an enclosed, separate space. If it is in an enclosed space,
it has to be covered by a roof and has to have one or more walls that separate that room from the rest of the building. This enclosed DSA shall have proper ventilation and no opening that will allow air to escape from it to the smoke-free area of the building, except for a single-door that is equipped with an automatic door closer.
The Order is also very specific that the DSA shall not be located in or within 10 meters from entrance and exit points of the establishment, or any place where people pass or congregate. Say, if it is in a mall, it should be clearly separated from the boutiques and restaurants where mall-goers are in. If it is in a workplace, it should be separated from the actual rooms where employees do their job.
Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial acknowledges that providing an enclosed DSA may be hard for private establishments. “The problem is it’s very difficult to comply with the Executive Order particularly if an establishment will put up an indoor Designated Smoking Area. So we’re advising establishments to actually, hopefully, just put up an outdoor smoking area because it’s easier to comply with.”
Meanwhile, Health Spokesperson Eric Tayag also reminds establishments to put up a “Designated Smoking Area” signage in their DSAS. This way, smokers will not have a hard time looking for the exact spot where they are allowed to light up a cigarette. There should also be visible graphic health warnings on the ill-effects of smoking as well as prohibition on the entry of minors in every DSA.
While EO 26 clearly states that we cannot smoke in an enclosed public place, it doesn’t necessarily translate that we can smoke in an open public place. “The enclosed character of a building or conveyance shall attach to all its areas, including its open spaces,” clarifies Atty. David. “For example, if there is an open space in a mall, smoking is still not allowed in that open space unless it has been designated as a smoking area.”
In other words, we shouldn’t take “open space” in its literal sense. “A smoker should be wary of the term as it is defined under the law, otherwise, he or she can be held criminally liable,” Atty. David says,
So where the heck can smokers light up a cigarette now when they happen to be in, say, a mall, and there is no DSA around?
Unfortunately, until and unless the management of the private establishment decides to provide a DSA in their premises, smokers will have no specific place to smoke. ”They can try to approach the management and pressure them to establish DSAS but beyond that, it appears they have no legal remedy,” Atty. David says.
how to quit?
“Ang hindi naiintindihan ng mga tao is that cigarette use is a disease. Hindi siya free choice ng tao. Nung sinimulan nila ang paninigarilyo, the chemicals in it made them addicted to it. Hindi niya na ngayon mahinto kasi magwiwithdrawal symptoms ‘yan. So they are victims. Hindi sila masasamang tao, kaya hindi ko makuhang magalit sa mga smoker. Kailangan maintindihan natin sila,” Dr. Dans says.
Secretary Ubial says that the intention of the ban is really to reduce the number of smokers in the Philippines. “Our projection is in the next five years, we would have reduced the smoking prevalence in this country by eight percent. More or less, that’s 1.5 million Filipinos who will stop smoking or will not start smoking.”
Perez knows this, sure. “I have thought of quitting but I have been unsuccessful at quitting. The longest period that I didn’t smoke was three months,” he confesses. “And it drove me nuts. It drove me insane. It drove me mental. My family was noticing na ang sama ng ugali ko. Iritable ako. I blow up at the slightest agitation.”
Reason why you’d have to understand where he is coming from when he says the smoking ban is unfair. He has a word about the smoking ban being a health concern: “A lot can be said about junk food. A lot can be said about sweets. A lot can be said about coffee. A lot can be said about fastfood and yet a popular brand opened its 1,000th branch,” Perez retorts. “So stop saying that the smoking ban is concerned about our health. That argument will not fly with me at all.”
And a word about the stigma: “Saan ka nakakita ng tao na naging bayolente kakayosi? Nabangga kakayosi?” he
says. “Pakitaan mo ako ng isang tao, isa lang, na sumama ang ugali o naging bayolente kakasigarilyo. Siguro kapag hindi mo binigyan ng sigarilyo, ayan magiging bayolente sila. But sabihin mong nasobrahan sa yosi, nagwala?! You’ve never heard anything like that.” His principle, in a line: “Smokers know that smoking is dangerous. We’re not idiots.” End of argument.