Authorities need to intensify monitoring, make more apprehensions, impose bigger fines
In the Philippines, the national government spends P276 billion every year for citizens’ treatment of four major diseases related to smoking, according to a study on poverty and tobacco use released in 2006.
If that amount were used instead to implement anti-smoking ordinances by local government units (LGUs), each of the 1,631 cities and municipalities across the country would have had P169.22 million a year.
Yet, based on figures that some cities provided Newsbreak, LGUs that have a smoking ban only spend from P300,000 to P2 million yearly to sustain their campaign. In fact, there are only at least 340 LGUs that have this campaign.
No wonder, the anti-smoking drive in the country has barely made strides.
According to representatives of seven cities, as well as health experts, interviewed by Newsbreak, LGUs need to intensify their monitoring of people and public places, be strict when apprehending violators, and impose bigger fines if their smoking bans are to succeed.
To do that, however, the local authorities will need additional personnel and allocations.
Not Lacking in Laws
The Philippines is not lacking in laws regulating smoking in public places. There are at least two national laws: The Clean Air Act of 1999 (Republic Act 8749) and the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (RA 9211).
Section 24 of the Clean Air Act says it is unlawful to smoke inside public buildings or any enclosed public place, vehicles, and “any enclosed area outside of one’s private residence, private place of work o any duly designated smoking area.”
The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, meanwhile, bans smoking in enclosed public areas and requires establishments to designate a smoking area.
There are about 450 local anti-smoking ordinances known in at least 340 LGUs, as of 2004, according to a study conducted by the health department’s Bureau of International Health Cooperation. Some of them were in effect even before the Tobacco Regulation Act was passed in 2003. The city of Manila, for instance, had its first anti-smoking ordinance in 1969.
Strict implementation of these laws and ordinances remains a problem, though.
Former health secretary Alberto Romualdez told Newsbreak that while national laws mandate the banning of smoking in public places, it is the local ordinances that are “more likely to be implemented by the local governments.”
The health department study in 2004, conducted by Dr. Florante Trinidad and Heidi Umadac, showed that, on the average, 35 percent of LGUs in the country have anti-smoking resolutions and ordinances. Out of the 58 provinces surveyed, only 22 had these local laws; of 1,188 municipalities, only 272; and of the 103 cities, only 46.
Of the total 450 anti-smoking ordinances and resolutions nationwide, 333 or 74 percent have provisions specifying that non-smokers can invoke protection from tobacco smoke.
However, except for the cities of Davao and Makati, “few cities were able to sustain full and effective implementation of local anti-smoking ordinances,” according to a briefing paper on best LGU tobacco control programs by the Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines.
Health officials and experts say that the implementation of smoking bans has been “weak.” Romualdez noted, “There are still a lot of places that are not strict in implementation.”
Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla says that a major problem in curbing smoking among Filipinos is the people’s lack of awareness of the ill effects of smoking. “Many people still see it as a hobby or past time without realizing its health hazards.”
LGUs then become the deciding factor in the success of the anti-smoking campaign, he says, because LGUs, unlike the Department of Health, have the police power.
Cities and municipalities that have initiated or intensified anti-smoking campaigns are usually met with strong opposition from the business and the tourism sectors. These sectors say that the ban can drive away tourists and their customers and decrease their income.
“The anti-smoking ban is always viewed as anti-commerce,” said Dr. Benjamin Yson, assistant city health officer of Manila. He recounts how owners of bars, particularly in Malate, reacted when Mayor Alfredo Lim, a non-smoker, stepped up the anti-tobacco campaign last year.
Manila’s tourism office, however, couldn’t validate the effects of their campaign on the tourist arrivals.
“They do not have the statistics stating that there is a decline in the number of customers to an establishment because of the smoking ban,” Yson said. “There are a lot of factors like financial crisis and there is a need for research to prove that it is because of the anti-smoking ordinance.”
In Iloilo City, Mayor Jerry Treñas recalls that when they started implementing the smoking ban, they received a lot of complaints from coffee shops in the malls. “Everyone was so used to have coffee while smoking.”
According to the World Health Organization, 35 out 100 persons in the Philippines smoke. In establishments, therefore, about one-third of customers will be affected by a smoking ban.
“If you think of revenues alone, you cannot implement it,” said Dr. Nelson Pasia, one of the authors of Makati City’s anti-smoking ordinance passed in 2002.
Health officials argue that the ban will have an impact on the revenues of the businesses only in the beginning. Eventually, they say, business establishments will get additional customers for implementing the ban—families that don’t want to be exposed to smoke will come.
LGUs are running after two culprits: the irresponsible smokers, who puff their cigarettes in public and enclosed places; and the establishments that either tolerate these smokers or do not impose the smoking ban.
The local police are usually tasked by the LGUs to go after these violators. Some cities have created special teams to do the task. Pasig City, for instance, has its Green Police that focuses on monitoring compliance of citizens and firms with the local environmental and sanitation laws, which prohibit smoking. The team, said Green Police coordinator Racquel Naciongayo, has around 200 members but only few of them are focused on apprehending smokers.
Flora Cayas, who has been with the Green Police for the almost a year, says people caught violating the ordinance usually say that they are not aware of the smoking ban. “Some of them even try to bribe us when they surrender their IDs or driver’s license.”
A Green Police, she says, apprehends an average of 10 violators a day. Most of them are jeepney drivers. “They usually smoke in their jeepney after having lunch.”
Drivers caught smoking inside their jeepney must surrender to the Green police their license and must claim it from the city environment and natural resources office (CENRO). Pedestrians, meanwhile, have to present valid identification cards.
Shortage of manpower
Naciongayo, however, admits that they are having a hard time running after the violators because their staff is not enough to monitor all parts of the city. “But it’s a good start,” she said.
Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila, doesn’t have enough implementers, too. City health officer Antonieta Inumerable says they only have 35 sanitation inspectors to monitor the smoking ban compliance of all business establishments.
Manila’s Yson said, “Even if I ask the inspectors to monitor 10 establishments a night, other bars can easily cover up because they are be tipped off.”
Dr. Maricar Limpin, director of the Framework Convention Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), says bars violate the provision of the Tobacco Regulation Act that prohibits smoking within food preparation areas.
“What is happening is that bars are completely smoking areas. It’s even going against sanitation code. You are not allowed to smoke in places where you prepare food and beverage and serve wines and margarita,” she said.
The ideal setup, Romualdez says, is for bars and restaurants to separate the smoking from the non-smoking area, or to allow smoking outside these establishments. “They should ban smoking inside the bars and encourage the customers to smoke outside the building.”
Food establishments have started offering al fresco dining. A waiter in a coffee shop in Makati City says they have a bigger area for al fresco dining since they have more customers who smoke.
“Al fresco dining is better than having smoking designated areas [in enclosed places], but the downside of it is the exposure of food to other pollutants,” Romualdez said.
Anti-smoking advocates believe that despite the challenges posed by shortage in manpower and difficulty of monitoring compliance, anti-tobacco campaigns can be successful if there are local officials who have the political will to implement the laws.
In Makati City, the anti-smoking campaign that started in 2002 has collected P4.8 million pesos from violators of the smoking ban and from business establishments applying for permits for designated smoking areas.
The city’s anti-smoking ordinance charges P10,200 in application, processing, and inspection fees to establishments that want to have smoking areas.
Esther Matibag of the Makati City health department says that the aim of the fee is to discourage businesses from designating smoking areas. “If they do not want pay that amount, then consider your establishment as a smoke free area. But if somebody is seen smoking in your area, you will be fined and you face closure.”
Limpin says that Makati, which provides free medical services to its poor residents, intensified its campaign against smoking after it was discovered that most of the illnesses suffered by its residents were respiratory, therefore triggered or caused by smoking.
Limpin, however, says that even local officials who smoke can become anti-smoking advocates as long as they themselves comply with the smoking ban in government offices. Leadership by example, she says, is very important.
Iloilo City’s Treñas and Calapan City Mayor Salvador Leachon are smokers, but their cities were able to come up with good strategies to support and enhance programs that seek to curb smoking.
Treñas says that every year they allocate P200,000 for the smoking task force. Leachon, meanwhile, says they are directing their information campaign at rural areas, where there are more smokers. Both mayors claim that they refrain from smoking whenever they are in their offices.
Flaws of the law
Existing anti-smoking legislation, experts say, should be reviewed to make the campaign more effective. Health officials point out that most ordinances impose fines and penalties that are very low, even high school or college students can afford to pay them. Fines for violators of the smoking ban range from P500 to P1,000 for the first offense.
Health experts suggest that instead of creating designated smoking areas, local ordinances should push for a total ban on indoor smoking in public spaces. Limpin says the concept of designating a smoking area actually encourages more smoking.
“It defeats the purpose of the ban,” Limpin said, because the “primary purpose” of a ban “is to protect the non-smokers.”
“Bar owners should not only think about the clients. They also have to think about the employees. What about the employees who are exposed to smoke? [Employers] have to think about its effect on the productivity of the employees,” Limpin said.
The success of most anti-tobacco campaigns rely on the anti-smoking task forces created at the local level. In most cases, the task force is composed of representatives from different departments of the LGUs like health, environment, police, business and licensing units, engineering office and, sometimes, the local chief executive himself.
The creation of an anti-smoking task force, said Manila’s Yson, is a sign that local government is serious in its campaign.
An anti-smoking task force composed of representatives from the different departments will not entail additional cost to the LGUs since the role of the task force will just be integrated to the regular functions of the other departments. The downside of this setup is that some offices, particularly those that have been overwhelmed by a number of projects and programs, may not be able to focus on the anti-smoking projects.
A separate anti-smoking body, meanwhile, means that that there would be a separate budget, staff, and equipment solely dedicated to running after violators of smoking ban. This, however, would mean an additional cost and layer of bureaucracy—a non-ideal situation especially for cash-strapped or low income LGUs already burdened by the challenge of delivering services out of their scarce local revenues and small internal revenue allotments.
Romualdez says that it is “not ideal” to create a special body for running after only irresponsible smokers. “If this will happen, everybody [in the LGU] else will assume that the anti-smoking campaign is not their business.”
Invest on Information Drive
For some health officials, the key to the successful implementation of the ban is still information campaign. Local government units should do this through forums and distribution of pamphlets and stickers discussing the hazards of smoking.
Dr. Domilyn Villareiz, co-chair of the Davao City anti-smoking task force, shares that apart from Duterte’s support, the smoking ban in Davao became a huge success because of massive media and information campaign. “Laway lang ang puhunan namin,” she said.
Villareiz says even poor LGUs can be successful in their anti-smoking campaign despite their small budget. “They can use the facilities of the local governments for free to host forums.”
She says poorer LGUs can even surpass the performance of the richer LGUs because smoking ban is easier to implement in these smaller areas. “They have smaller land area and population and monitoring is easier because they only have few business establishments,” she said. (Newsbreak)