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Court stops graphic health warnings on cigarette packs

Score one for Fortune Tobacco Corp. and zero for the Department of Health (DOH). A Marikina City court has ruled in favor of the Lucio Tan-led company — which is headquartered in the same city — disallowing the Department of Health (DOH) from implementing for now an order requiring tobacco firms to place graphic warnings on their product packages.
The tobacco lobby is resisting an order by the health department to place picture warnings like this on cigarette packs.
The court granted Fortune Tobacco’s petition for a writ of injunction, saying that it would be best not to make any modifications yet on existing tobacco restrictions in the country, while the case is ongoing. Controlled by liquor and tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan, Fortune Tobacco reportedly has a 90 percent market share in the Philippines after it merged with the local unit of US-based Philip Morris. "After thorough study of the allegations and arguments raised by the petitioner and both in its petition and memorandum, as well as the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by respondent with its arguments in its memorandum, the Court holds that the interest of justice will be better served if the status quo is maintained," Judge Felix Reyes of the Marikina Regional Trial Court Branch 271 said in a ruling dated July 1. Based on DOH Administrative Order 2010-0013, tobacco companies will be required to place graphic health information and warnings on their product packages, in place of textual warnings the the department considered "false and misleading descriptors." Reyes said that while he acknowledged the witnesses and evidence that the DOH has so far presented in court, these do not prevent the court from ordering a preliminary injunction against the administrative order. "[The DOH's evidence] dwell more on the wisdom and propriety of the issuance of AO 2010-0013, which evidence will be better assessed and considered in the trial proper," he said. Existing law In its petition, the tobacco firm argued that AO 2010-0013 violated an existing law, Republic Act No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, Section 13 (g) of which disallows the printing of any warnings on cigarette packages except for the health warnings "NO SALE TO MINORS" or "NOT FOR SALE TO MINORS." It also said that the DOH’s order was "unconstitutional because it was invalid exercise and usurpation of legislative power." The order was based on the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to which the Philippines is a signatory. Only Congress could implement provisions under the FCTC, which the Philippine signed and ratified in 2003, the tobacco company said. The DOH issued AO 2010-0013 on May 24 and is expected to be effective in mid-July. But even before the agency could implement it, Fortune Tobacco sought a temporary restraining order against the AO on June 3.
Cigarette packs in 38 countries already carry graphic health warnings. The tobacco industry is trying to prevent them in the Philippines.
Judge Reyes granted the request for a TRO on June 9, directing the DOH to cease and desist from implementing the administrative order for 20 days, from June 10 to June 30. The Health department has so far presented four witnesses, namely Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, Edgardo Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Packs, Emerito Roxas of the New Voice Association of the Philippines, and Marilyn Crisostomo, a professor from the Adamson University. Home court decision Padilla expressed "disappointment" over the judge's decision, but said it was "not unexpected" that the Marikina judge would favor Fortune Tobacco given that it was considered a "home court decision." The Health official said the department will be questioning the injunction order before the Supreme Court. "Doon na namin ide-deretso para ipa-reconsider. Bahala na sila kung ibababa nila sa Court of Appeals," Padilla told GMANews.TV. (We're bringing the matter directly to the Supreme Court. It's up to the high court whether or not to pass it on to the appelate court.) Padilla feared that the injunction order would bring more harm than good to the public, especially the children. "We are trying to dissuade the youth from smoking tapos ngayon hindi matutuloy. For everyday that passes, mas marami pa tuloy na kabataan ang papasok sa paninigarilyo [and now they stop us from implementing the AO. With each passing day, more children are more likely to try smoking]," he said. - RJAB Jr/KBK, GMANews.TV