The time is now. No other time in history but now have we become very health conscious, more informed, and more aware of our right to health, so that a smoke-free environment as the new normal is now being pushed in Congress.

Health advocates, medical professionals, child rights activists, and other civil society organizations are calling on legislators to make work and public places safe from cigarette smoking and vaping as the country prepares for a new normal amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. This is in light of HB 6623 also known as the “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020” which has been filed and being deliberated in Congress. In its unity statement, 23 civil society organizations called on the government to declare all work and public spaces 100 percent smoke-free.

The government should thus take this opportunity to mandate a healthful and toxic-free environment by declaring all work and public places 100 percent smoke-free,” the statement said. “By adding the provision that all indoor and outdoor work places and public places, regardless of whether government-managed or privately-managed, shall be smoke-free and vape-free and no designated smoking and vaping area shall be allowed”  as part of the “Universal and Mandatory Safety Measures” in any “New Normal” Policy, the government will be able to reduce: (1) the transmission of COVID-19 virus; (2) the number of Filipinos who would suffer from serious illness due to COVID-19; and, (3) major healthcare costs of suffering from COVID-19.”

Smoking and vaping are reportedly a risk factor for any lower respiratory tract infection, and the same is the case for Covid-19. Smokers and vapers with lower or compromised immune systems have a higher chance of contracting the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that tobacco products still continue to kill annually eight million people who get hooked via a $9-billion a year marketing strategy.

That’s the warning from the WHO which has said that even during a global pandemic, the tobacco and nicotine industry has continued to promote products that limit people’s ability to fight new coronavirus and recover from the disease. “Blowing off smoke, second hand smoke, indoor smoke and third hand smoke are not acceptable anymore because you are affecting the health of other people,” public health expert Dr. Susan Mercado noted.

Moreover, those who smoke and use vapes are likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization, because the act of smoking involves touching the lips with fingers—and possibly contaminated cigarettes—that increases the possibility of transmitting viruses. “There is no point in our recent history where people have become more concerned about health. This is a moment where we are all very aware of our health and how our own health impacts other people. If we didn’t have that awareness before, we certainly have it now,” Dr. Mercado noted.

The Department of Health said anyone who suffers from a severe respiratory illness will require a mechanical ventilator and admission in an intensive care unit. This is estimated to cost at least a million pesos, which is beyond the reach of many Filipinos. A smoke-free environment will also save people from costly medical care.

The joint statement that was submitted to both the Senate and House of Representatives calling for a smoke-free environment has been signed by local and international organizations that include Children International, HealthJustice Philippines, Child Rights Network, Social Watch Philippines, Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, Action for Economic Reforms, WomanHealth Philippines, Medical Action Group, and EcoWaste Coalition.