Green Groups Boost Drive for Graphic Tobacco Health Warnings to Curb Use and Pollution

Quezon City. Campaigners for pollution prevention and chemical safety have joined forces with advocates for tobacco control in urging the 14th Congress to rush the approval of picture-based health warnings on cigarettes.

Members of the EcoWaste Coalition joined the festive “World No Tobacco Day” parade today organized by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP) and other groups, carrying a green banner that says “Show the truth! Cigarettes are toxic to health and environment.”

Donning colorful head gears depicting the exotic kalaw (rufuous hornbills). the environmentalists also called attention to the uncaringly tossed toxin-filled cigarette butts that can end up in water bodies, polluting the water and killing birds, fish and other wildlife who mistake them for food.

Apart from saving lives, the EcoWaste Coalition sees graphic health warnings on tobacco use as necessary to halt pollution from cigarette butts – “the most littered toxic waste in the country.”

Far from being benign, discarded butts contain some 4,000 left-over chemicals that can leach and harm the ecosystems, especially the marine life. Butts can take up to 15 years to break down, releasing the accrued chemicals and tars in the process.

Among the green groups who took part in the event were the Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice, Ban Toxics, Buklod Tao, Concerned Citizens Against Pollution, Earth Renewal Project, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Zero Waste Recycling Movement of the Philippines Foundation, Inc. and concerned students from St. Scholastica’s College.

“We are one with FCAP in pushing for effective control policies and measures to curb alarming tobacco consumption, especially among the Filipino youth,” declared retired nurse Elsie Brandes De Veyra of the EcoWaste Coalition, a network of 85 groups committed to advancing human and ecological health.

FCAP, along with the Department of Health and the World Health Organization, has been campaigning for graphic warnings on cigarette packages in line with WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that the Philippines ratified in 2005.

The EcoWaste Coalition expressed concern over the rising prevalence of smoking among the Filipino youth as shown in the Global Youth Tobacco Survey that indicates alarming increase in smoking among boys aged 13-15 years old, which rose from 49% in 2004 to 51% in 2007, and also among girls of the same age bracket, which jumped from 27% in 2004 to 30% in 2007.

“We join the clamor for a law that will effectively notify and caution our people, particularly the youth, about the hazards of tobacco use and exposure to second hand smoke through pictures or pictograms, “said film and stage actor Roy Alvarez, another leader of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“The whole society will benefit from being informed about the terrible consequences of tobacco addiction that is killing our people and dirtying our environment with toxic smoke and cigarette butts,” he added.

“The critical awareness will lead to reduced tobacco use and disposal of cigarette butts, the most littered toxic waste in the country and the world,” Alvarez said.

According to the 2008 WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, most smokers are unaware of the risks of tobacco use, its extreme addictiveness and the full range of health dangers associated with smoking.

The report identified comprehensive warnings about the dangers of tobacco as critical to changing its image, especially among adolescents and young adults.

“Health warnings on tobacco packages increase smokers’ awareness of their risk. Use of pictures with graphic depictions of disease and other negative images has greater impact than words alone, and is critical in reaching the large number of people worldwide who cannot read,” the report pointed out.

“Expanded warnings encourage tobacco users to quit and young people not to start, and help gain public acceptance of other tobacco-control measures such as establishing smoke-free environments,” the report said.

The WHO reported that 100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 20th century. If current trends continue, there will be up to one billion deaths in the 21st century. Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80% of those
deaths will occur in the developing world, including the Philippines.