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Opinion: Duterte’s smoking ban is a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences

Many smokers are (perhaps not very successfully) holding their breath to see exactly how the new smoking restrictions will pan out.

Will it be like the ban on plastic bags in Metro Manila? (What? You’ve never heard of it? It’s been on the statue books for five years now. City Ordinance 8282, if you’re interested.)

Or will the lure of “on-the-spot fines” see police enforce it with a maniacal enthusiasm?

Whichever way it turns out, it’s an utterly flawed directive and a veritable Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

First, I want to look at the way the government has presented the Presidential Executive Order. Snazzy little ‘infographics’ have been circulated showing all the places you can no longer smoke.

Here it lists things like schools, hospitals and gas stations — all places that are almost certainly non-smoking already.

It also announces that under this new law, smoking will (finally!) be banned on aircraft. Well, jolly good, and about time too!

Thank goodness the Philippines has finally taken action on smoking aboard aircraft!

Why didn’t they add that you can no longer smoke under water, or inside the womb, or in your grave — just to make things absolutely clear?

If they were being honest, they would just say: “You can’t smoke in any public place unless there is a sign informing you that you can.”

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And this includes standing in a quiet corner of the sidewalk, or down a deserted alleyway, or in the middle of an empty, windswept park.

Exactly what constitutes a “public place” will no doubt be decided, as and when, by the “on-the-spot” enforcing officers.

Business owners have it even worse, and will struggle to pin down exactly what terms such as “well-ventilated”, “buffer zone” or “serving area” mean. No doubt the enforcers will be out and about with tape measures, waving around licked fingers to measure the breeze.

So, it remains to be seen how it will be enforced, but what are the unintended consequences of the ban?

Economically, the most damaging will be on tourism. I know of at least two frequent visitors from Europe who are rethinking their travel plans. At home they’re used to using comfortable smoking areas outside bars or just ducking out the front door for a minute.

That’s not going to be possible under the new law.

Remember, no smoking on the (heavily polluted) street, and how many Philippine bars have gardens, or pleasant covered areas that are at least 10 metres from…from… well, that’s another vague point.

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But even if these smoking western tourists were replaced by hordes of clean-living visitors, what about the Chinese and Koreans?

The Department of Tourism is in the middle of a campaign to attract millions of extra visitors from these countries and, sorry, but once they start getting fined for lighting up in the street or on the “wrong” part of bar terraces, word will get around and they simply will not come.

But anyway, by then the country’s entertainment districts (and casinos?) — which are a major draw for heavy-smoking Asian tourists — could have been fined out of existence anyway.

Another problem, counter-intuitively, is one of public health. If locals start to be fined when they’re out and about in their barangays or sitting on their front steps, they will smoke more inside their own homes.

The health effect of two parents, several uncles, grandparents. visitors all chuffing away in a tiny house full of kids could be catastrophic. It remains to be seen if, say, five years down the line there’s a spike in teenage cancer rates.

Now, to be clear — I absolutely agree with sensible restrictions on smoking and I always try to be considerate to others when lighting up.

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And, no, I wouldn’t dream of smoking in a hospital, school or plane (I still can’t believe they included that on their poster!)

In my home country, the UK, the 2007 smoking law took some getting used to (and led to the closure of thousands of pubs) but I’m absolutely happy with how it works now.

I’m sure smokers across the developed world, where similar laws are almost universal, would say the same. Some of these laws have been tweaked, and the effectiveness has been measured and compared.

So, the big question: Why didn’t the Philippines identify which country had achieved the best public health outcomes, with the least economic impact, and simply copied their law?

Any reasonably bright intern could have done this in an afternoon, and the cost of photocopying wouldn’t be more than a few pesos.

No need for consultants or statisticians or medical experts — the Norwegians, or Swiss, or whoever has already done all that — just plonk the photocopy on the president’s desk and, stamp, squiggle, it’s done.

Instead they’ve created a total dog’s dinner of a bill, that will either be (totally or selectively) ignored or will kill off the tourist trade and choke a generation of children.


10 Comments on "Opinion: Duterte’s smoking ban is a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences"

  1. I’m not a smoker but your opinion piece is objective and I agree with everything you say – especially the point about copying legislation from a country that has already successfully introduced a smoking ban, and tweaked it accordingly. Unfortunately somebody here wanted to reinvent the wheel – or maybe it was just nationalistic pride that they didn’t want to copy another country’s laws.

  2. load of rubbish, smoking has gone. WE’ll have healthier people around and guess what. You can still smoke only you’ll have to go somewhere away from non smokers to do it.

    • So, why is the Philippines now the only country in the world where you can’t smoke on the side of the street? Why does the country need to be stricter than every developed nation and even Singapore?

    • Why don’t the non-smokers go away from the smokers? Are you that high and mighty?

    • Stewart, in essence I agree with you. In the way you put your point across I do not. Here’s an example. There’s a bar in Makati that has, for years, had two indoor air-conditioned bars and dining areas inside. In one you could smoke and in the other you could not. Non smokers didn’t have to walk through the smoking section and vice versa. What’s wrong with that model? Why ban all indoor smoking when all they need to do is put the onus on the owners of the venue to provide totally separate spaces, with separate ventilation. I dare say that most establishments would take that opportunity up so as to not alienate one or the other. The other question would be, why can’t a bar or restaurant declare itself as a smoking venue. Big sign on the door, non smokers need not enter. No need to tell people how to do business.

  3. Gone to far as a smoker and drinker it’s a shame been coming now. For 7 years and loved it but won’t be back noww

  4. I am a smoker. This new law I really do not see what is the purpose of it. Anyway in all buildings which offer a service, private or public, smoking was not allowed and had not been an issue. The restaurants, bars etc smoking was not allowed in enclosed space unless filthy establishments which no need to mention here. Hotels depends the will of the management smoking was allowed or not in the room but mostly not. Open spaces businesses (cafes restaurants etc) allowed smoking and why not since the open air in most of the towns is heavily polluted from the exhausts of all kinds of transportation means. So what is the purpose? Empowering the local authorities to enforce this law with fines, I have witnessed it my self, it is just another satisfaction to their impotent mentality to hassle people due to the law. Examples, go to SM North, Trinoma and Cubao araneta mall. You will witness the security guards and whatever law ordinance people, literally standing in front of the Designated Smoking Areas waiting for someone to make a step out of it and fine him. Now if you tell me that I will go vacation to a resort and I will not be able to smoke at their open air areas, bye I go to Thailand or anywhere else in SE Asia, anyhow this country is not offering anything more (rather less) than the other countries to tourists so why not. Go now to the open space cafes and see who is seating at their tables, by standers or just passing by people who take a rest without ordering not even a centavo worth. Not being able to smoke on the side walk at the open air??? But the jeepney (and not only) which will pass besides me will emit tons of fumes…if nothing else at least it is a joke.

  5. If this is enforced in Pampanga then it is going to decimate the economy of Angeles City. Smokers in those bars outnumber nonsmokers by at least 3 to 1 from what I’ve seen. Same would hold true for Barretto, although at least it does have a beach I guess. It is certainly poorly considered, poorly planned and poorly executed. I don’t know if, as a smoker, it would put me off going somewhere though, that sounds a little over the top. Forcing all hotels to go 100% smokefree is a mistake. A hotel isn’t a public place, it’s a private business which lets property. Surely a landlord has the right to either allow or disallow a legal activity within their premises?

  6. Well heeled foreign tourists smoke cigars. They expect and get INDOOR cigar bars in all the most expensive hotels in places like Dubai and on Luxury Cruise ships. Cruise ships that are not luxury usually designate the port side on open decks for smoking. Stand alone Cigar Bars are everywhere in developed countries. Cigar smokers do not inhale so they have minimal health risks. Cigar lunges do NOT use just some ventilation equipment. They use expensive, high tech air purifiers that include IONIZERS. The air they produce is cleaner than Jeepney polluted outside air.
    As matters stand, it looks like cigar bars would only be allowed outside under the new rules. Can you see yourself wearing your best barong perspiring in the outside heat to have your premium cigar? Rich tourists will avoid the Philippines. Existing cigar bars in Manila and like Tinder Box in Cebu City, are faced with the prospect of shutting down their inside cigar lounges. The broad brush approach of the smoking ban has turned a blind eye to the existence of Cigars, cigar lounges and how they are radically different from cigarettes.

  7. Erap and Duterte are the biggest proponents of no-smoking laws, and they both are ex-smokers that were forced to quit because of health issues. If you know anything about Filipinos, it’s easy to understand this is just a case of crab-mentality and childish jealousy. “If I can’t smoke, nobody can!”

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