Implementing the smoking ban in LB

by: Margie Calilap, Jan Amiel de Leon, Kaizzey Marjorie Javier, Ysabel Anne Lee, Nicole Lorraine Prieto, Mary Josene Uriel Villar

Smoking not only affects the human body but also pollutes the environment. It is in recognition of this need to protect the people and the environment from the harmful effect of smoking that the RA 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 and the RA 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 were enacted. Under these laws, smoking in PUV’s is prohibited.

In Los Baños, Laguna just like in many other towns and cities in the Philippines, such as Metro Manila, Baguio City and Hundungan in Ifugao, the smoking ban is enforced. Municipal Ordinance 2011-16 or ‘No Smoking in Public Utility Vehicles’ is implemented through the municipality’s law enforcers and traffic management personnel. Violators are apprehended and charged a penalty of ₱300 for the first offense and ₱500 for the second offense. Three-time violators will be fined ₱700 or jailed from one day to six months, or both, at the court’s discretion. Traffic enforcers will be also in charge of the facilitation of penalties and accosting of violators.

With the law and the ordinance in place, students and faculty of the University of the Philippines Los Baños benefit from the ban because the ordinance, at least, made the drivers and passengers aware of the No Smoking Policy in PUVs. However, even there is already a policy, not all drivers and passengers are complying.

“One reason why drivers are not strictly complying with the no-smoking policy is that they know the authorities are among the first to disobey the law,” says 65-year old Nanay Linda, a cigarette vendor for five years, as she sits in her usual spot waiting for customers along the Anos National highway.

Four thousand chemicals in one go

Imagine inhaling 4,000 chemicals in one go — chemicals such as nicotine, acetone, ammonia, cyanide, ethanol, lead, benzene, cadmium, chloroform, butane, carbon monoxide and many more, all of these when riding a jeepney with a smoker on it and the exhaled smoke goes your way. That is second-hand smoke, what you inhale from a lighted cigarette of an active smoker, and it immediately gives you cough, nausea, headache, eye irritation, sore throat, dizziness and difficulty in breathing if you suffer from asthma. In the long run, it will increase the risk of you contacting smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and even heart attack. All these, because of second-hand smoke.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that six million people die each year because of the respiratory diseases that come with smoking and exposure to second hand smoke. By the year 2030, it is predicted that smoking will kill eight million people annually.

In line with the implementation of the no smoking policy, the local governement of Los Baños gave free no smoking stickers to PUJs. But many people still do not pay attention.

Mr. Edgar Dionlay, a nurse, rides a jeepney when going to and from work. He often notices the stickers regarding the No Smoking Policy posted in most jeepneys he rides, but to his dismay, drivers and passengers continue inhaling cigarettes unmindful of the small reminder posted at random corners of the vehicle. Passengers, meanwhile, express their disappointment over those who are not complying with the law. Some find it annoying and at the same time embarrassing because they themselves smoke such as college students Jules de Leon, Ted Lamela and Dang Red. “Nakakainis pag may pasaherong naninigarilyo. Nakakahiya (because they do not seem to care) sa ibang nakasakay”, said the smokers who admitted that they are all aware of the ordinance.

The perennial problem with these good laws not being implemented properly is because those implementing are even the ones to violate it. Nanay Linda said that for five years she’s been selling cigarettes, mostly of her customers are traffic enforcers and drivers. “Traffic enforcers whose job is to monitor the drivers are the ones who buy cigarettes from me,” she said.

Cigarettes: A source of income

Nanay Linda’s livelihood greatly depends on her sale of cigarettes. According to her, selling cigarettes is the only easy way she knows to earn money. Because of her age, she can no longer carry out heavy tasks that require a lot of physical work. She has been selling her cigarettes to drivers and by-passers either at the steps leading to the Olivarez Plaza or the sidewalk near the Caltex gasoline station along the Anos National Highway. She has her small bench, her box of candies and cigarettes, umbrella and a piece of towel to make her day a productive one. Sometimes, when she is free from the attack of arthritis, she approaches jeepneys to sell to drivers and even climbs aboard buses hawking her cigarettes to passengers.

She proudly claims that she is a businesswoman of her own. But relative to other in the trade, her capital is small, at P400, but enough to make small margin or return on her small “investment.” Her day starts at 7:00 am and ends 12 hours later. She takes home P250 to P350 pesos, just enough to buy her food expenses and the rent for the house at a thousand pesos each month, among others. Her salary encompasses all her daily expenses since she’s already widowed and she has no child to support.

“If the government is thoroughly implementing the policy, then the production of cigarettes should be banned in the first place so that nobody can buy cigarettes,” Nanay Linda argues.

Determination is key

PUJ drivers in Los Baños are in favor of the no smoking policy even though they, too, smoke. While they are united in this stand against smoking, they have apprehensions about dealing with passenger-violators. Some tend to confront passengers to smoke while the others let them be, leaving the task to passengers who cannot stand the violation. “Talagang dapat bawal… sinisita namin, sinasabihan namin yung mga pasahero namin na bawal (It is really prohibited, so we confront violators)” said one driver waiting for passengers inside the UPLB campus. “A violator should be accosted not just for the sake of obeying the law but also for the interest of health and welfare of passengers.”

Jinky Vasquez, a government employee, complains about the lack of effort from people who ride PUJs, “Hindi naman sila sinasaway or sinasabihan man lang ng mga driver o ibang pasahero. Pag nasabihan naman, ayaw pa rin tumigil.”

If cigarettes are banned in public places, Nanay Linda would eventually lose her livelihood source. “If the government banned cigarettes, maybe they can give us (cigarette vendors) jobs which we’re capable of. If they banned cigarettes but didn’t consider us, even if there is a policy, I will not stop selling cigarettes.”

Nanay Linda knows that smoking is bad for the health and in fact she worries about the health of those who buy cigarettes from her. But she doesn’t have a choice. She has to live with the thought that other lives, those of her customers, are at stake.

At the end of the day, scenarios like this shows the lack of discipline among Filipinos. But what other alternatives could there be?

It all boils down to a more strict enforcement of the law and raising the awareness of the public. First, the law should be implemented in a way that there will be watchers in public places to make sure this policy is followed properly. Lastly, there should be stronger advocacy. Provide not just effective advocacy but efficient, persuasive ones to widen the awareness of the public about the policy.

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