Health Advocates Express Grief over Death of Jo Ramos, Reiterate Urgency of Graphic Health Warnings on Cigarette Packs

June 28, 2011. Manila, Philippines – With the news of the loss of Jo Ramos, daughter of Former President Fidel V. Ramos, to lung cancer, health advocates emphasize the pressing need for picture-based warnings on cigarette packs. Her demise is only one of the 240 Filipino lives lost every day from tobacco-related diseases.

“We extend sincere condolences to the family of Jo Ramos. We appreciate very much the effort of President Fidel Ramos fulfill his daughter’s dying wish to remind people that smoking is bad for you.” says Dr. Esperanza Cabral, former DOH Secretary. “In an interview, FVR relays that Jo’s advice to all is ‘Smoking is bad for you.’”

It was during the term of Dr. Esperanza Cabral that the Department of Health issued Administrative Order No. 13 or the Graphic Health Information Order, which requires pictorial health warnings to cover 30% of the front panel and 60% of the back panel of each pack.

Senator Pia Cayetano has already filed a bill that would bolster the attempt to get these pictures on packs. The bill provides for a penalty to be paid by tobacco companies for every day of violation. It also ensures the long-term impact by periodically varying the images used on packs.

HealthJustice, a public health law NGO that supports both the AO and the bill, stresses on the number of lives that are being saved in other countries using picture health warnings. “Studies show a great decline in tobacco use in Brazil, Canada, Singapore, Thailand among others. US also recently announced that they will also be implementing picture warnings. We should not wait any longer,” says Atty. Evita Ricafort of HealthJustice.

According to World Lung Foundation, a smoker takes a look at a cigarette’s packaging an average of 15 times a day. A picture warning on the package is then the most effective and practical way to warn a smoker of the grave hazards of smoking.

“Despite clear evidence on the positive impact picture warnings contribute to public health, the tobacco industry attempts to stop these pictures from seeing the light of day by filing lawsuits in different trial courts. The more successful they are in their efforts, the more tobacco-related deaths are not being prevented,” expresses Atty. Ricafort.

Dr. Cabral states, ““I call on Secretary Ona to step up the campaign of DOH against smoking.”

The Philippines is also a signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty that obliges its parties to put effective health warnings on cigarette packs.

It is estimated that one Filipino dies a tobacco-related death every 10 seconds, making it an alarming public health crisis. Seven out of the ten primary causes of death in the country – stroke, cancer, heart attacks, tuberculosis, chronic lower respiratory disease, pneumonia, and diseases that occur around childbirth – are tobacco-related diseases