The Philippines is known as a tough place to stop people from smoking because the tobacco business has been there for a long time. It was called the “strongest tobacco lobby in Asia” more than 15 years ago. The 2019 Southeast Asia Tobacco seeds Industry Interference Index put the Philippines fifth out of nine countries in the area. It was one of only two countries where tobacco industry interference has gotten worse every year since the first index came out in 2015. Even so, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn. Even though the chances were against it, people were still able to make progress. This may teach us something useful as tobacco control moves toward an endgame paradigm.
Balanga City, in the province of Bataan, has become a leader in the fight against tobacco by getting two laws passed.
In March 2016, policymakers passed City Ordinance No. 09 of 2016, which changed the Comprehensive No Smoking Ordinance (CNSO) of Balanga City to ban the sale, distribution, use, advertising, and promotion of tobacco products and/or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) within three kilometers of the university town. Ninety-five percent of Balanga City is hit, so there is almost a total ban.
The Tobacco Free Generation (TFG) End Game Strategy Ordinance of Balanga City, Bataan, was passed by the government in September 2016. For people born on or after January 1, 2000, this policy made it illegal to buy or use any kind of tobacco or ENDS. This created a group of people who don’t smoke. With help from Dr. Koong Heng Neng, the founder and head of Tobacco Free Generation International, they were able to do this. With the help of young people who had worked with TFG in Singapore, Dr. Koong talked to young people in Balanga City and got them to back TFG. By passing the TFG code, Balanga City became the first place in the world to put into law the TFG idea, which was first proposed by Khoo et al. in 2010 and explained in detail by Berrick in 2013. This was a huge step toward the endgame for tobacco in the Philippines.
Problems with the law
Balanga City didn’t have to wait long before the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), a trade group for the tobacco business, did something about it. On July 21, 2017, PTI filed a Petition for Prohibition against Balanga City on the grounds of preemption, saying that the CNSO’s prohibitions are stronger than national rules set by the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and therefore break those rules.
The next year, when the first members of Balanga City’s tobacco-free generation turned 18 and could legally vote, PTI filed a Petition for Declaratory Relief against the city’s TFG policy for the same reasons. The petition said that the TFG policy trumped the national Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 because it banned the sale, use, and spread of tobacco products and ENDS to adults, which are all legal under national policy.
In response to these challenges, Balanga City has said that national law, or the Local Government Code of the Philippines of 1991, gives local governments the right to rule as they see fit for the general welfare of their people. They also say that since the Philippines is a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), it has to follow the FCTC and not just its own policies. Since both the CNSO policy and the TFG policy of Balanga City are based on the FCTC, the city has the right to use both policies.
At the moment, the lower courts have sided with the PTI. Balanga City is thinking about going to court to protect its right to make public health policies that are good for everyone.
Even though there were problems and not enough money, Balanga City moved forward with both policies with popular support. Since the lawsuits, Balanga City has also passed a new law called The New Comprehensive Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation for the Protection of Health and Welfare Ordinance of Balanga City. This law brings together the CNSO and TFG rules. At the time this was written, PTI hadn’t sued the New Comprehensive Policy yet. Policymakers from Balanga City and Bataan province have also started working together to make tighter, more uniform rules for the whole province.
Effects on the World
As both cases move through the courts in the Philippines, they get closer and closer to the Philippine Supreme Court. The results of both cases will have big effects on the future of stopping people from smoking and on the endgame model.
At stake are the questions of preemption and whether or not local governments should be able to make and carry out policies like TFG, which are important for moving the Philippines toward a tobacco endgame model. If the CNSO and TFG policies of Balanga City are found to be unconstitutional because of preemption, similar local tobacco control policies, like the one that President Rodrigo Duterte pushed as mayor of Davao City, would also be found to be unconstitutional. If the court sides with Balanga City, on the other hand, these laws would be allowed to stay in place. According to the city’s defense, the FCTC would also be recognized as the basis of tobacco control strategy in the Philippines.