DOH releases IRR for graphic health warnings in tobacco packs

Metro Manila (CNN Phlippines) — People suffering from the effects of a stroke, gangrene, and mouth cancer.

This in itself sounds scary. But it is even scarier when you see these physical effects of smoking.

Soon enough, these are the images that smokers will see on cigarette packs as required by the Graphic Health Warning Law.

It took about a year and a half for the inter-angecy committee on tobacco to finalize its implementing rules last week.

"Essentially, tama lang naman 'yung target implementation ng batas on March 3, 2016, so wala kaming nakikitang dahilan para masabing may delay sa ginagawa natin," said Dr. Lyndon Suy, spokesman of the Department of Health (DOH).

[Translation: "Essentially, the target implementation of the law on March 3, 2016 is on time, so we don't see any reasons why this should be dubbed as a delay in proceedings."]

The law aims to discourage smoking by displaying the gruesome images right on the cigarette packs.

Some lawmakers see it as a companion measure to the Sin Tax Reform Law, which seeks to reduce the number of Filipino smokers by  jacking up the prices of tobacco products.

"Siyempre kahit papaano matatakot ka, dba? Mamaya mangyari sa amin 'yun kaya mababawasan siguro 'yung paninigarilyo," said Allan Padilla, a smoker.

[Translation: "There is the element of fear, of course. Since we (smokers) are wary that these (images) may happen to us, the frequency of smoking may lessen."]

Cigarettes leaving warehouses beginning March 3 should be packed with picture warnings.

Same goes for imported cigarettes that will come out of customs.

By November 3, all cigarettes sold in the market must have picture warnings that cover the lower half of a pack.

Side panels should have additional information, which may include hotlines or websites for smoking related concerns.

Manufacturers, importers, and distributors who violate the law face a fine of up to P500,000 on the first offense, and up to P1 million on the second offense.

On the third offense, this fine could reach up to P2 million, and the court can impose imprisonment of not more than five years. Shops can also lose their business permits.

With high prices, and now government imposed graphic warnings, cigarette vendors expect sales to drop further.

"Dati babae't lalake, isang kaha bibilin, ngayon pa-isa isang stick na lang siya," said cigarette vendor Rodrigo Dupalco.

[Translation: "Before, both men and women smokers buy a pack of cigarettes. Now, they only buy a stick or two."]

Anti-smoking advocates are hoping the graphic warnings will really discourage smoking, especially on young people.

"Ngayon, mas makikita na nila... it becomes very tangible, it becomes real na ito 'yung pwedeng mga mangyayari sa kanila once they start smoking and when they become regular smokers," said Dra. Maricar Limpin, a Pulmonologist from the Philippine Heart Center.

[Translation: "Now, the effects of smoking will be more tangible and real, especially when they become regular smokers."]

Health officials say more than 200 Filipinos die daily due to smoking-related diseases.