Second-hand smoke from cigarettes is a form of violence against women. According to tobacco control advocates, Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence against Women Act provides a legal remedy that will force partners to quit smoking.
Lawyer Deborah Sy of Health Justice said the law has two requirements. One, the partner intentionally exposed the woman to second hand smoke. And two, the exposure caused her physical or psychological harm.
In extreme situations, if the partners refuse to stop the habit, the law provides a legal remedy that would threaten the partners with imprisonment of up to 12 years.
Department of Social Welfare and Development Dulfie Shalim admitted that smoking is the least explored among other forms of violence against women. “Often, domestic violence is attributed to excessive drinking or substance abuse, smoking hardly comes up as a factor in cases of violence against women,” she said.
The problem is women have been very tolerant of the smoking habits of their partners, said Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines. If only to avoid having fights with their partners who are addicted to smoking, some women choose to endure second hand smoke even if they are aware of its ill effects, she said.
“Recognition of the violence starts with the knowledge of the harms of second hand smoking. Unfortunately, over 90 percent of Filipinos know little beyond “smoking kills,” and may have no idea how toxic second hand smoke is,” added Sy.
The tobacco control advocates are calling of the passage of the Graphic Health Warning Bill to inform the public of the hazards of smoking. If passed, the tobacco companies will be forced to print in the cigarette packages horrifying photos depicting the dangers of smoking on health.
The tobacco control advocates said they want women to be aware of the provisions in R.A. 9262 that allows them to seek legal remedies to stop their partners from smoking—even only during times that they are around.
On the ground of physical harm, section 8 of R.A. 9262 allows women to seek protection order from their respective barangay officials to force the partner to “desist from doing acts being complained of.”
“Exposing another to second hand smoke has the same effect as exposing someone to poisons and dangerous toxins. It is an act that has immediate effects such as nausea, dizziness, headache or irritation of respiratory system. Normally, the exposure to smoking suffered by women is prolonged. Hence, the damage to the body is more significant,” Sy said.
On the ground of psychological harm, section 5 of the law, provides legal remedy for extreme situations. Women may file a criminal suit that would make the partner face imprisonment of up to 12 years.
According to Sy, Section 5 stipulates that intentional exposure to second-hand smoke can be categorized as psychological violence. The punishable acts include “engaging in purposeful, knowing, or reckless conduct, personally or through another, that alarms or causes substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman or her child.”
“It may be applied in cases where intentional exposure to second hand smoke is used as a means of showing control or power playing, for example, if there is already a prohibition against it but the perpetrator continues to expose the family to second hand smoke.”
Women smokers getting younger
FCAP also raised the alarm on the growing number of Filipino young women who get into the smoking habit.
According to a study—South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) survey—one in every five women in the 13-year-old to 15-year-old age bracket confirmed that they are already smoking. Among these young smokers, three in ten got the habit before they turned 13.
In comparison, Limpin cited a 1998 study of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showing that young smokers began smoking at a later age—15-year-old to 17-year-old.
Asked in the SEATCA survey how they got into the habit, half of them believe that tobacco companies encouraged them to smoke through advertising and promotion.
“The study clearly shows that tobacco companies are enticing the youth to take on smoking. In the marketing parlance, the youth are called ‘replacement smokers’ and they are the ones now being targeted by these tobacco companies,” said Limpin.
Limpin said the tobacco companies have been creative in enticing the youth to smoke. They made available in the market few cigarette sticks per pack so that students can afford them.
What’s more alarming is how the tobacco companies are coming up with products that are intended for women, she added. “It has not yet arrived in the Philippines, but there are packs which look like a perfume or a soap box. Camel No. 9, with a hot pink-colored pack is really intended for women smokers,” she said.
Graphic health warning bill faces opposition
These issues make the Graphic Health Warning all the more important, they said.
The bill is facing strong opposition in Congress, however.
The congressmen of the tobacco-growing provinces claim that the tobacco farmers would lose their livelihood, if the bill is implemented, said Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros Baraquel, one of the proponents of the graphic warning bill in Congress, said
Baraquel said that those who oppose the bill are “barking on the wrong tree”, since the tobacco farms should be part of an agricultural policy, and the Congressmen should unite with them in upholding the health of their constituents.