Republic Act No. 9211 [RA 9211], otherwise known as the Tobacco Regulation Act, took effect in 2003. Smokers have adhered to this law without encountering much problem. The public has generally understood why smoking in confined places should be prohibited. On the other hand, business ran “as usual” for cigarette vendors. For almost a decade, the sort of system the RA 9211 has created can be described as “harmonious.” The smokers were at peace with society and vice versa.
In 2013 and thereabouts, a number of local government units (LGUs) started introducing their own anti-tobacco/no-smoking measures. As a matter of scaling-up certain relevant rules not covered in the RA 9211, the resulting enforcement regulations and practices by LGUs have been often confusing and intimidating since. Uninformed of their rights and often due to sheer ignorance, smokers could be taken aback. When outdoors, smokers are consistently exposed to sudden apprehension and threat of embarrassment by anti-smoking enforcers. To delimit smokers’ access to supply, vendors are being watched tightly.
The situation became even more confusing when the Executive Order No. 26 [E.O. 26] was implemented on July 23, 2017. Just as the E.O. 26 mandates the participation of as many LGUs as possible, including the Philippine National Police and local barangays, such a single local ordinance enforcement can break-up arbitrarily into “just as many” also, depending on which agency is in-charge. Disappointingly, many of these so-called enforcers lack the necessary comprehension that should enable them to articulate the violation. Instead, out of eagerness perhaps, the resulting interaction between the apprehending enforcer and the offender can get too confrontational, unfriendly and discriminatory.
Of another important concern is the persistence of some public health advocates in pressing the Senate for a “double sin tax” on tobacco. It is a “must-watch” development because if passed, the burden will be levied heavily upon the tobacco consumers. A pack of Marlboro Red, for example, could easily fetch as high as Php 100.00.
Some of the questions, however, are: how such a move will impact on the poor? Do health advocates have the right quality of data to support their projected targets on excise tax revenues? What are needed to parry the attacks against the simple pleasures smokers do derive from lighting up? As smokers, can we just allow them to push our heads deeper into the water without showing any form of struggle or a fight?