Public interest law group ImagineLaw bats for raising the minimum age of access to cigarettes to 21 years old.

Photo Caption: “It is like 16 jeepneys full of people without social distancing.” Law group ImagineLaw lays down 321 pairs of shoes at Boy Scout Circle, Tomas Morato to remember the 321 Filipino lives lost due to tobacco. The group is calling for stronger tobacco control policies to save lives. contributor file photos

“It is like 16 jeepneys full of people without social distancing.”

This was how public interest law group ImagineLaw and other groups on Friday described the 321 Filipinos who die every day due to tobacco-related diseases, during a street installation featuring 321 pairs of shoes and slippers at Boy Scout Circle, Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

“This installation has a clear message: tobacco companies and their products are deadly. They are not partners in public health and are instead the cause of death of hundreds of Filipinos every day,” said the law group’s executive director Atty. Sophia San Luis, citing data from the Department of Health (DOH). “Stronger tobacco control policies are needed to protect Filipino lives,” she also said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Cancer Society (PCS) expressed support for the proposal to raise the minimum age of access to tobacco products to 21 years old. Earlier this week, Senator Pia Cayetano filed Senate Bill No. 2410 that sought to raise the minimum age of access to tobacco products to 21.

“We need to protect young people’s health and development from the bad effects of cigarettes and addiction to nicotine,” PCS Executive Director Dr. Rachel Rosario said.

The groups also said that the government should uphold policies against tobacco industry interference in policymaking.

“Today is a stark reminder of the lives we can save if the government and local government units (LGUs) uphold and fully implement tobacco control laws and policies,” said Menchie Auste, chief executive officer (CEO) of Cancer Warriors Foundation and Vice President of Cancer Coalition Philippines.

“We already know the how’s of preventing this needless loss of lives and suffering. What we need to do is act now and work together to prevent these avoidable deaths,” she said.

The groups called for the passage into law of House Bill No. 8763 or the Smoke-free Environment Bill that will expand the coverage of the smoking ban in Republic Act No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulations Act of 2003 and strengthen the power of local government units to enact stricter smoke-free ordinances.

They also urged Senators to junk Senate Bill No. 2239 or the Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery Systems Act, more commonly known as the Vape Bill, that seeks to roll back regulations on the sale, manufacture, and marketing of vapes and e-cigarettes in the country.

The group also called on the government to uphold the DOH – Civil Service Commission (CSC) Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-001 (JMC 2010-001) that protects policymaking and government processes from the influence of tobacco companies.

“The JMC is our vaccine against the tobacco epidemic,” San Luis said. “Without it, tobacco companies will continue to spread the deadly diseases caused by their products,” she concluded. #