Smoke-free environment expansion pushed to help fight vs Covid-19

Can a Covid-19 positive smoker transmit the disease to those who inhale second-hand smoke?

“It has been shown in studies that smoking severely weakens the lungs, the primary organ damaged by Covid-19, and that second-hand smoke coming from a Covid-positive smoker may carry the virus and transmit the disease to those who inhale second-hand smoke,” said former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez-Tan.

Thus, he stressed that any legislation that will expand the smoke-free environment and limit smoking areas, which has been identified as ‘hotspots’ of transmission, will contribute to government efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last year, National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. identified smoking areas as one of the main areas of transmission of the disease.

Smoke-free Bill of Yul Servo lauded

Health advocate groups welcomed the filing of the smoke-free environment bill by Manila City representative John Marvin “Yul Servo” Nieto on February 16, 2021.

Groups under the Philippine Smoke-Free Movement, a group of more than 70 civil society organizations, on Friday expressed their support for the bill, saying that its provisions will fill the gaps in Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 which the bill is set to supersede once passed.

“This bill will create more smoke free environments in more public places and build on the gains of the Executive Order 26 of President Duterte. Further, if passed into law, it will sustain the strict implementation of smoke free policies well beyond the term of this administration,” said Atty. Jacky Sarita, Managing Director of Health Justice Philippines, a member of the Philippine Smoke Free Movement.

In 2017, the President issued EO 26 which mandates the comprehensive smoking ban in public places which was widely enforced by the Philippine National Police and many local government units. The EO replicates an ordinance which was passed by President Duterte when he was still the Mayor of Davao City.

Servo said that as a health advocate and a family man, he believes that expanding the smoke-free environment must be pursued not only because of the growing threat of Covid-19 which primarily damages the respiratory system but also for the longer term as the “creation of smoke-free environment will generally protect public health from the harms of second-hand smoke.”

“Every Filipino family deserves a public place that is safe. As guaranteed by no less than the Philippine Constitution, we must provide a ‘healthful environment’ for all Filipinos especially our children and the youth,” Servo said in a forum on February 19.

Galvez-Tan, in a statement, agreed saying, “By preventing non-smokers from being exposed to second-hand smoke which has been established to cause respiratory diseases and different cancers similar to those acquired by smokers, this bill, if passed, will truly promote the constitutional right to health of each Filipino.”

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, even a brief exposure to second-hand smoke is more than enough to damage cells in ways that can set in motion the cancer process. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke inhale many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers.

Expanding smoke-free environment

The new bill expands the definition of public places covered by the smoking prohibition in RA 9211 to include an absolute ban on public transportation and its terminals, government offices, and other public places which may be classified as smoke-free by local government units to protect public health.

Other salient points of the bill include 1) prohibiting indoor smoking areas and making smoking areas discretionary only; and 2) requiring local government units to create smoke-free task forces and allocate dedicated funds for its operation.

When asked whether this is an absolute smoking ban, Servo answered: “No, smokers will be allowed to smoke in designated smoking areas which must be in open spaces outdoors but this must be located in places where people don’t pass or congregate.”

For her part, Mardy Halcon of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the new bill will align with the country’s commitments to international treaties of which the country is a part of and is consistent with the advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“These reforms on the smoke-free provisions of the Tobacco Regulations Act of 2003, especially the prohibition on indoor smoking areas, is aligned with the caution of WHO that no amount of engineering requirements can protect people from the harms of secondhand smoke,” she said.

“We urge other legislators to support and pass these reforms on our smoke-free laws which are widely supported by Filipinos to complement the health measures for the new normal,” concluded Sarita.

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