Cayetano: Tobacco companies yes to graphic warning

Four major tobacco companies have agreed to support a highly-contested bill requiring graphic health warning to be slapped on cigarette packs.

Senator Pia Cayetano, vice chair of the Senate committee on health and demography,  said that Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation Inc. (PMFTC), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), British-American Tobacco Philippines (BAT) and Mighty Corporation Inc. (MCI) have indicated their support "in principle" to the Graphic Health Warning (GHW) Bill this Wednesday.

Cayetano had a discussion with the major Tobacco brands in a hearing for Senate Bill Nos. 27 and 499 that she and Senate President Franklin Drilon authored, respectively.

Both bills require cigarette packs in the country to bear graphic health warnings showing the health risks of smoking and second-hand smoke to discourage Filipinos, especially the youth, from taking up the habit.

"I am pleased and surprised because I've conducted this same hearing six years ago, and back then, the cigarette companies were really opposed to this," said Cayetano.

"But today, they expressed support and acknowledged the bill as a measure that would benefit the public,” a decision Cayetano assumes as goodwill on the part of the four cigarette firms.

While the Tobacco companies expressed support for the measure, Cayetano said that they proposed changes to the measure which she believes can be resolved.

Concerns that were pointed out include the proposed size of the graphic health, the compliance period for the release of the new packs, and the requirement to print several variations of the graphic health warning and to rotate these periodically.

In addition, the companies questioned the provisions on allowable minimum packaging size, and the requirement to remove descriptors from cigarette labels, among others.

The tobacco industry submitted position papers and are currently under review by Cayetano to create a new version of the bill – a process she said might take two months.

“And from there, we'll see how long the plenary debates will take," she explained, while noting that the two previous versions of the measure stalled in the 14th and 15th Congress following lengthy debates in plenary.