Being a known as a heavy smoker has not stopped President Aquino from pushing for ways to combat the spread of tobacco-related illnesses in the country.

This was the assessment of the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) of the Aquino administration after it was able to pass two landmark legislations, namely the Sin Tax Law of 2012 and the Graphic Health Warnings (GHW) Law of 2014.

“It is simply remarkable how President Aquino exemplified professionalism in pushing for the passage of two anti-tobacco health measures despite being a known chain smoker,” said NVAP President Emer Rojas.

“He could have simply turned a blind eye over the proposed bills but he showed his concern to the people by pushing for better public health,” he added.

In 2012, Aquino signed the Sin Tax Law with the aim of increasing the prices of tobacco products and make them inaccessible to the public, especially the poor and the youth.

Based on a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) last year after the Sin Tax law was passed, the prevalence of smoking for those belonging to Socio-Economic Class E or the very poor dropped from 38 percent in December 2012 to 25 percent in March 2014.

The survey commissioned by the Department of Health (DOH) also showed that smoking prevalence among those belonging to the 18 to 24 years old age group was also reduced from 35 percent in December 2012 to 18 percent in March 2014.

“It is clear that the Sin Tax law enabled the people to step away from the deadly smoking addiction by making them more expensive,” said the Global Cancer Ambassador.

Rojas also cited the role of the sin tax revenues in increasing the capability of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to cover more Filipinos under the Aquino administration.

During the first two years of the implementation of the Sin Tax Law, the government was already able to rake in P51.12 billion in 2013 and P50.18 billion in 2014.

“President Aquino reported during his SONA (State of the Nation Address) that 89.4 million Filipinos are now members of PhilHealth. The revenues sourced from the sin products clearly enabled the administration to take a step closer to achieving its ‘Kalusugang Pangkalahatan’ goal,” said Rojas.

On the other hand, the NVAP head said Aquino also supported the passage of the GHW law, which now requires tobacco manufacturers to place picture-based warnings in cigarette packs.

Aquino signed the GHW law in 2014, which is seen by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a cost-effective means to increase public awareness about the dangers of tobacco use.

“Having the GHW law clearly demonstrates the eagerness of the Aquino government to protect Filipinos from the deadly but avoidable diseases such as cancers caused by smoking,” said Rojas.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), all cigarette packs must be printed with GHWs already by October 4, or one year after the 12 templates were released by the government.

Included in the templates are images of people suffering from stroke, emphysema, mouth cancer, gangrene, impotence, throat cancer, neck cancer, as well as premature birth and low birth-weight of babies of smoking mothers.

By signing these two landmark health laws, Rojas said Aquino has shown his desire to promote public health, particularly to combat smoking-related illnesses like cancer, stroke, heart and lung diseases.

“President Aquino knows the emotional stress of having loved ones die with cancer and this may have prompted him to make sure that health is a primary concern of his government,” said Rojas.