Pirante Perez is a 30-year-old journalist for a weekly local news magazine. And as how writers are usually romanticized in old movies, Perez starts his day with a quick puff on a cigarette. Because of the demands of his job—looking out for stories, interviewing high-profile officials, and the actual writing itself that often gives him restless days and sleepless nights—Perez needs a regular push. Others get that push from coffee. Others from food binges. Perez gets his from cigarettes.
As he arrives at the agreed meeting place, he empties his pockets before settling down: car keys, some pens, candies, and of course, there’s that pack of cigarettes. And the first thing he says is that he is a helluva smoker. “When I wake up, I smoke. After I finish a meal, I smoke again. ‘Pag busog ka kasi, when you smoke, parang bumababa ‘yung kinain mo. So after ng meal, nag-i-smoke ako ‘di ba? Pagpasok ko sa CR, ayan, smoke ako roon ulit. Then when I leave the house and go to work, kapag nasa car na ako, yosi ulit.”
He smokes a pack a day. “A good half of the pack will be smoked in the office. And the remainder of that will be at home when I am trying to polish an article that’s due,” he says. “I am, without a doubt, a heavy smoker.”
“So how do you feel about the smoking ban?” we ask.
“Man, that question makes me want to puff a cigarette right now.”
Smoking is dangerous to your health—but nobody’s stopping you
Last May President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 26, the nationwide smoking ban. It provides “for the establishment of smoke-free environments in public and enclosed spaces,” which means you can’t smoke in “enclosed public spaces and public conveyances, whether stationary or in motion, except in Designated Smoking Areas (DSA).” The order applies “to all persons, whether resident or not, and in all places, found with the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines.”
The order, apparently, is in compliance with a World Health Organization treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, enforced in 2005, of which we are a party. This is apart from our own Clean Air Act of 1999, which already prohibits smoking “inside enclosed public places, including public vehicles and other means of transport, and other enclosed areas”, and ultimately, the Constitution itself, which declares that the “State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people...”
“Hindi pa ba obvious?” says Dr. Anthony Dans, a pulmonologist and professor at the UP College of Medicine, “The smoking ban is implemented to protect people.”
Dr. Dans says there are 46 life-threatening diseases related to smoking, among them chronic kidney diseases, pneumonia, heart diseases, stroke, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive lung diseases.
“Hindi lang ‘yung smoker who is protected. Ang maganda pa roon, pati ‘yung passive smokers are protected. Sila ‘yung mga hindi naman naninigarilyo. Hindi naman nila choice manigarilyo and yet they’re exposed to those 46 diseases kasi people beside them smoke.”
Dr. Dans is backed by important data. According to the Philippine Cancer Society, it is estimated that around 3,000 non-smoking Filipino adults die every year because of lung cancer, which they may have gotten from inhaling secondhand smoke. On the other hand, figures from the Department of Health show that an estimated 71,850 Filipinos (or eight people every hour) are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year. The DOH also reports that diseases from smoking costs the Philippine economy more than P188 billion) in health care costs and productivity losses every year.
But Atty. Jose Angelo David, a constitutional law professor at San Beda College of Law, makes it clear that EO 26 does not stop anybody from smoking. In fact, David notes that the “choice to smoke” is indeed subsumed under a person’s “right to liberty” as guaranteed under Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” The Supreme Court has described this “right to liberty” as the “opportunity to do those things which are ordinarily done by free men.”
“The sentiment of smokers is understandable. There is no denying that the Clean Air Act of 1999, the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, and EO 26 do restrict, to some extent, do restrict the right and liberty of individuals to choose whether or not to smoke,” Atty. David says. “But these restrictions, however, are not unreasonable. In the Philippine Constitution, for as long as a government act or regulation is not unreasonable, it will not be struck down as ‘unconstitutional’ and it is not considered in violation of a person’s rights.”
Where is the designated smoking area?
“Akala ba nila madaling talikuran ang pagyoyosi? After 30 minutes to an hour, you get edgy, you tap your feet like what I’m doing right now,” says an agitated Perez. We notice it. We ask if he’d like to smoke outside. But then again…
“Where’s the DSA?” Perez asks. “This mall, like most malls, do not provide a DSA. Now tell me, how is that fair? Why are they not here? You cannot expect us to follow it and not give us clear provisions on where to smoke. Punyeta, that’s kalokohan.”
We’re with Perez in a coffee shop at a popular mall in Makati. Prior to the smoking ban, he says he would always go there to unwind and have a puff or two with a friend or a new acquaintance. But he says the place, which used to be an old reliable, now feels like a trusted friend who’d just turned his back on him...
This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of FHM Philippines. For more on this story, grab a copy of the magazine.
Minor edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.