Health advocate calls for stricter implementation of EO vs smoking

Exposure to passive smoke has had a harmful effect on the health of many people, hence the need to reinforce Executive Order 26 titled “Providing for the Establishment of Smoke-Free Environments in Public and Enclosed Places.”

Former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, a trustee of HealthJustice Philippines, said EO 26, which was further expanded to include e-cigarettes in EO 106, will help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in certain public places which have been dubbed by Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) officials as “hot spots” of transmission.

EO 106 prohibits the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of unregistered and/or adulterated Electronic Nicotine/Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS/ENNDS) or electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs), and other novel tobacco products.

“Smoking is extremely harmful and damaging to health,” Dr. Galvez-Tan said.

He cited a World Health Organization (WHO) scientific brief which highlighted the link between smoking and more severe Covid-19 and death.

It stated that smokers and vapers may be “vulnerable” to contracting Covid-19 “as the act of smoking involves contact of fingers with the lips, which increases the possibility of transmission of viruses from hand to mouth.”

The same warning was given by the Department of Health citing a review of studies by health experts convened by WHO which stated that smokers are vulnerable to complications brought about by the virus.

It may be recalled that HealthJustice wrote the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) after learning that workplaces particularly smoking areas are “one of the main sources of transmission.”

In this regard, HealthJustice recommended that Section 7 of the Joint Memorandum Circular 20-04-A, s. 2020 (Department of Trade and Industry and DOLE Supplemental Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of Covid-19) be amended as follows:

“Workplaces must be smoke-free. Except for workplaces which must be absolutely smoke-free pursuant to Republic Act No. 9211, employers may designate smoking areas which must be outside the workplace in an open space following the standards provided under CSC Memorandum Circular 17, s. 2009 for government offices and Executive Order 26 for other workplaces. Employers shall require employees to strictly observe physical distancing measures and other applicable health protocols [i.e. no talking inside designated smoking areas.]”

Police support

Meanwhile, HealthJustice, lauded the Philippine National Police for taking a stand against smoking after it committed to protect the people from harmful effects of smoking and secondhand smoke, vowing to enforce EO 26 that bans smoking in public places.

PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronaldo Olay also said the strict enforcement of EO 26 may reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19. Olay said smoking puts people at increased risk for Covid-19.

“Breathing secondhand smoke can affect your lungs…This may leave the body more vulnerable to the virus,” he said in an interview over DWIZ’s “Healthy Life, Happy Life” radio program.

Olay, meanwhile, encouraged the public to report violators of EO 26 as it sets the standards for designated smoking areas (DSAs).

Under the EO, DSAs are areas of a building or conveyance where smoking may be allowed. It may be in an open space or a separate area with “proper ventilation.”

Likewise the EO also specifies that a “non-smoking buffer zone” be established for DSAs not located in open spaces. To protect minors, they are prohibited from entering the DSA or its buffer zone.

He said that the public may report violators to “E-Sumbong mo, Aksyon Ko!” which is an initiative of PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar.

Pending bills

While the two EOs do not “absolutely” prohibit smoking in all public areas and public conveyances, HealthJustice stressed that there is still a need to “strengthen” its implementation to make it sustainable through the passage of three smoke-free environment bills.

In the Senate, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa sponsored Senate Bill 1976, while Representative John Marvin “Yul Servo” Nieto of the 3rd District of Manila backed House Bill 8754. Representatives Rowena Niña Taduran, Eric Yap, and Jocelyn Pua-Teo, all of the ACT-CIS partylist, sponsored HB 8763.

These bills sought to expand the coverage of the smoking ban in Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulations Act of 2003 to include all public places, prohibition in the establishment of indoor smoking areas, and strengthen the power of local government units to enact stricter smoke-free ordinances.

If enacted into law it is expected to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19; lessen the number of people who will die due to tobacco smoke; protect the Filipino people from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke; provide an environment for smokers to quit, and prevent smoking initiation among the youth.

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