WHAT “grave injustice and irreparable injury” would anyone suffer if prevented from smoking in public, or from inhaling the smoke from a burning cigarette and the smoke smokers exhale?
Judge Carlos Valenzuela of Branch 213 of the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court didn’t, and probably can’t, say. But he used that argument anyway to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MDDA) to stop it from enforcing its ban on smoking in the streets under the authorization of RA 9211 which regulates the advertising and sale of tobacco products, and RA 7924, which requires the MMDA to promote public health among other responsibilities.
The MMDA is appealing the issuance of the TRO, and has announced that it will continue to enforce the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, among them shopping malls, theaters and public utility vehicles.
The judge could have made a better case for his “grave injustice and irreparable injury” argument by ruling in favor of the smoking ban rather than for its lifting. It is certainly a “grave injustice” to expose people including children to the hazards of second- hand or downstream smoke, which, research has established, is as bad for the health as smoking.
On the other hand, smoking can cause the smoker the “irreparable injury” of dying from about 11 types of cancer including lung, kidney, liver cancer and leukemia; from emphysema; heart disease; vascular diseases and a host of other ailments which have killed and are still killing millions of men and women all over the world everyday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t mince words about the effects of smoking: “Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body,” says CDC. “Smoking causes many diseases and reduces the health of smokers in general.”
As if that were not enough, the CDC states outright that “Smoking causes death,” and to prove it reinforces that observation with the following figures:
• “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.
• “More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
• “Smoking causes an estimated 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women.
• “An estimated 90% of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease are caused by smoking.”
On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that smoking is a greater cause of death and disability than any single disease, responsible for an estimated five million deaths worldwide. Second-hand or downstream smoke inhaled by non-smokers in the immediate presence of a smoker has also been identified as a cause of the same ailments mentioned by the CDC, and in some instances has been found to have an even more damaging impact on the health of both adults and children.
Probably unbeknownst to Judge Valenzuela, the Philippines is among the 168 countries that signed the 2005 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which commits countries to protect public health by adopting measures to reduce tobacco use by increasing the prices of tobacco products, protecting the public from passive exposure to tobacco smoke, and educating the public on the adverse effects of tobacco use, among others.
The findings on the ill effects of tobacco use are conclusive, and the results of decades of research, which in the United States were for a time kept from public knowledge through the efforts of the big tobacco companies. Eventually, however, the results were disseminated enough for the harm smoking does to be fairly well-known.
Research on the subject also led to a ban on media advertisements for tobacco products (cigars and cigarettes, pipe and chewing tobacco). In addition to being required to submit a list of the ingredients of its products, tobacco companies in the US are also required to include in their packaging a warning that tobacco causes a number of diseases.
The impact on the public of the fact that Benigno Aquino III smokes — has there been an increase in cigarette smoking among young people because of his example? — has yet to be determined and probably never will be.
Cigarette packaging in the Philippines does carry the government warning—part of the country’s commitment to the WHO Framework — that “smoking kills,” but who reads the packaging, or much of anything that’s written in this country anyway? Besides which, in addition to being an addiction difficult to cure (addiction to anything is a disease), cigarette smoking has for years been identified with sophistication and machismo in many countries, thanks to advertisements that identify cigarettes with precisely those qualities.
Only the strict enforcement of anti-smoking laws can stop people from smoking in public places and inflicting harm on the — to borrow Judge Valenzuela’s words — “unwary public.” Smoking in public harms both the smoker and anyone else in his vicinity, but thanks to Judge Valenzuela and the lawyers of the two security guards, the latter’s “rights” — to inflict harm on themselves as well as others — have been upheld at the expense of the public.
Smoking was once, and was nearly described by the security guards’ lawyer, as a right, which would put it in the same category of entitlements as free expression. It is nothing of the kind. It is not only a filthy habit; it is also a filthy habit that kills, and should be among those practices, like spitting on the streets, that should be strictly regulated, for the sake of public health as well as civilization.
But as Judge Valenzuela’s decision and recent events are demonstrating, it’s far easier in this country for the Senate to investigate art exhibits and for unreconstructed bigots to propose the curtailment of free expression in behalf of gift-soliciting bishops than for its institutions to do the right thing. Stupidity kills as much as smoking does. So let’s not hold our breath waiting for judges to see the light — better yet, let’s do hold our breath; we might otherwise inhale the second-hand smoke from the cigarettes of those who’re killing not only themselves but others as well.