Gov’t agencies should help employees quit smoking – law group

PASIG, Capitol – (June 29, 2021) – Law group ImagineLaw on Tuesday urged government agencies to provide smoking cessation tools as part of their health and wellness program for employees, especially in light of the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Helping people quit smoking is not just the responsibility of the Department of Health (DOH). It is in the interest of government agencies to improve productivity and overall well-being of their employees,” said Atty. Anna Bueno, policy associate for ImagineLaw.

The law group said that this program can be done in line with the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 or Republic Act 9211 that mandates a national smoking cessation program.

“It is more urgent now, with the COVID-19 pandemic that also primarily attacks the lungs. Smokers and former smokers experience more severe COVID-19 symptoms compared to non-smokers,” Atty. Bueno also said. 

She added that government agencies should provide their employees with scientific and medical knowledge and tools to help them quit smoking. “Counseling, nicotine-replacement therapy, and community support, among others, are just some of the doctor-recommended tools to help individuals quit nicotine addiction,” she remarked. “These should be made available to employees by the State employer in coordination with the DOH or their healthcare provider,” she urged.

ImagineLaw maintains that there is a need to go beyond establishing smoke-free government offices and premises. “Making sure that a smoking ban is implemented in government offices is a fundamental first step,” Atty. Bueno said. President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 26 in 2017 that established smoke-free environments that included government premises.

“Smokers who want to quit need support. Nicotine, a substance present in cigarettes, is highly-addictive,” the lawyer explained. “Six in every 10 smokers want to quit. But tobacco companies, through their aggressive marketing and introduction of more addicting alternatives, are deliberately making it difficult for smokers to quit,” Atty. Bueno said.

“Cessation support services are a way for the government to protect workers from the tactics of the tobacco industry to prevent smokers from quitting,” she urged. “Helping workers who value their health to quit smoking fosters a good health-seeking work culture,” she added.

The law group also said that the Civil Service Commission (CSC), in partnership with the DOH, can provide the mechanisms for the smoking cessation program in the civil service sector. In fact, a 2020 Joint Memorandum Circular between the CSC and DOH (JMC 2020-01) on occupational health and safety standards supports the establishment of such mechanisms in light of COVID-19.

ImagineLaw said that government agencies have the opportunity to serve as an example to the private sector. “As more workers return to work, thanks to our vaccination program, it is important that the government sets the new normal for a healthy and productive workplace,” Atty. Bueno concluded. ###