The government recently imposed a total ban on smoking in all public places. This national policy follows that city ordinance long implemented in Davao City, one of the strict measures that made then-mayor Rodrigo Duterte popular nationwide. To most Filipinos, this proves that with an iron hand, leaders can actually rule with discipline, making citizens follow simple rules such as a ban on smoking in public areas.
Where this government is good at is making such policies that aim to discipline the people on bad habits, such as smoking in public places, distracted driving, loitering (for minors), drinking and going around half-naked (topless, that is) at past midnight in the streets.
There was also supposed to be a total ban on the use of firecrackers, but government eventually made so many compromises giving in to industry concerns that the law now lacked teeth, unlike that we saw in Davao City. I am waiting for Duterte to also make true his promise to ban karaoke in residential communities at sleeping hours.
Indeed, we seem to be going back to the Martial Law years during the Marcos regime, when people were forced to obey laws fearing punishment which could be harsh. As authorities were given power to arrest without warrant and to detain people indefinitely, nobody would risk getting arrested for even the most petty offenses.
Save for policies that have serious implications on civil liberties, I don’t really mind those that aim to discipline the citizenry. So I am actually happy for this total ban on smoking in public places. Not being a smoker, I am one of those easily annoyed by secondhand smoke.
My father used to smoke a lot and I grew up inhaling secondhand smoke from him when I was a baby. He stopped as soon as he realized it was not good for his children. But then, it already had an effect on me; I grew up having weak lungs.
Given that health condition, I was advised by the doctor to never smoke. Of course, in high school, out of curiosity, there were those moments when you took a stick passed on by a friend. But I never really got hooked on it.
I can understand if some people find smoking calming or even cool, but as for me, I just want to breathe fresh air as much as I can. I don’t want it suddenly spoiled by nicotine coming from the person puffing a cigarette next to me. I guess that is true for the majority of Filipinos who don’t smoke.
And yet, in my experience, most Filipino smokers are actually sensitive to those who don’t smoke. In fact, I think that most of them observe the no-smoking sign. Even before this national ban on public smoking was implemented, we already enjoy shopping inside the malls completely free of smoke, thanks to previous city ordinances. And in the jeepneys and public buses, those who smoke are getting fewer.
Reports say that the number of people who smoke in the Philippines is steadily dropping each year. This is probably due to past efforts by government to educate the public on the dangers of smoking, the increasing legislation banning smoking in public areas, the mandated addition of scary photos on the cigarette package showing negative effects of smoking, and the imposition of “sin tax” on tobacco products, which resulted in increase in price per stick or pack of cigarettes or cigars.
Even before this total ban on smoking in public places, the Philippines has been leading the way in the campaign against the use of tobacco in Southeast Asia. In countries like China and Indonesia, smoking is still so popular and government is either lax in the implementation of anti-smoking laws or smokers still tend to ignore them.
When I was in Bali few years ago, I saw how my artist-friends there seemed to be killing themselves by chain-smoking. I told them fewer and fewer people are smoking that much in the Philippines. In China, smoking signs are commonly ignored as a lot of Chinese continue to smoke even in nicely carpeted hotel lobbies, air-conditioned cafes, and inside elevators. It will still probably take some time for these countries to make advances in the campaign to make people stop smoking that the Philippines is achieving now. And it’s one thing we can be proud of.