Health Department: Nationwide smoking ban starts July 23

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 17) — The nationwide smoking ban will take effect on July 23, the Department of Health said on July 21.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said on July 17 that the ban will start even if the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) — the set guidelines to assure compliance with the executive order — are still being finalized.

"Unfortunately there's a lot of vetting that has to be done with all the key stakeholders, the other government agencies. So it's taking quite some time to issue the IRR," she said.

Ubial said local government units will take the lead in implementing the nationwide smoking ban. All local governments are required to create a task force that will oversee the ban's implementation.

She admitted it is a challenge for both private establishments and local governments to comply with the executive order.

"There's a lot of work to be done by the local government unit so it depends on how they move forward in terms of the task force, in terms of the information education materials, and in terms of having the private facilities also comply with designated smoking areas," she said.

The Health Secretary suggested creating outdoor smoking areas, instead of an indoor smoking area.

"The problem is it's very difficult to comply with the executive order particularly if an establishment will put up an indoor designated smoking area. So we're advising establishments to actually, hopefully just establish outdoor smoking area because it's easier to comply with that," she said.

An indoor smoking area should have a "buffer zone" or another door to separate the smoking area from the main space for customers. A separate ventilation system will also be required.

"It should be like completely sealed from the rest of the indoor spaces. So there should be no leaks," Ubial said.

Vapes not included

Health Assistant Secretary said vapes and e-cigarettes are not included in the smoking ban, but local government units can implement an ordinance.

"Tobacco Product Executive Order at dahil sa hindi na-classify na tobacco product ang vapes, subalit kung ang mga pamahalaang local ay may ordinansa tungkol dito, ipatutupad din po yun," Health Department Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag told CNN Philippines on July 14.

The smoking ban, or Executive Order No. 26 was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 16. It aims to establish "smoke-free environments in public and enclosed places."

RELATED: Duterte signs EO on nationwide smoking ban in public places

The Philippines bans smoking in public places under Republic Act 9211 or The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, and has been a signatory to a tobacco control treaty for more than a decade.

According to lawyer Jim Asturias of Health Justice Philippines — an NGO focusing on overlapping issues of health and law, and public health policy — the Executive Order is necessary to address the gray areas of the RA 9211, such as the definition of "public places" and the kinds of tobacco products that will be banned.

Under RA 9211, smoking in public places is allowed as long as its done at a designated outdoor smoking area with proper ventilation.

Violations

Under the executive order, individuals caught violating the smoking ban will face fines ranging from P500 to P10,000 depending on the number of offenses. Meanwhile, establishments violating the same may be fined P5,000 or imprisoned for not more than 30 days.

Under RA 9211, the purchase and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to and by minors and in certain places frequented by minors is prohibited. Those who will violate the provisions on providing tobacco products to minors may be fined P5,000, face imprisonment of up to 30 days, or revocation of business licenses and permits.

The DOH is also considering a "name and shame" campaign for local government units that will not comply with the smoking ban.

Tobacco use significantly reduced

According to the 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) Global Adult Tobacco Survey, around 15.9 million Filipinos aged 15 years and above smoke tobacco, which causes an estimated six million deaths a year because of tobacco-related diseases.

The WHO said this was significantly less than the 17.3 million smokers recorded in 2009, as a result of key policy changes in the years in between.

One is Republic Act 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Law, which was signed into law in December 2012. The measure curbs demand for tobacco products through higher taxes.

The other is Republic Act 10643 or The Graphic Health Warnings Law, which was signed into law in July 2014. It requires cigarette manufacturers to put gruesome pictures of the effects of continued smoking, such as gangrene and mouth cancer, on their packaging.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong, Lara Tan contributed to this report.

Story updated 12:55 a.m. of July 22 to add details on tobacco use.