Up in (cigarette) smoke

The fact that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is enforcing a no-smoking campaign around the metro is admirable. Nonsmokers will greatly benefit from this initiative as smelling cigarette smoke, to them, is less than pleasurable. It also makes them less prone to secondhand smoke-related health issues. The campaign’s goal of a smoke-free Metro Manila is, indeed, a laudable aspiration. But it’s also a lofty one.

So why now? The law regulating cigarette smoking in public places has been in place since 2003. It took the government eight years to act on it. It’s as if, all this time, the not-so-new law is a Post-It that’s been sitting on a desk somewhere, waiting for someone to notice it. Too bad the person who was supposed to read it was on a coffee break. Eight years is a pretty long coffee break, don’t you think?

Even if the metro-wide smoking ban is already in effect (at least, theoretically), how sure are we that it will work? Two weeks before its official “strict” enforcement, I saw a traffic enforcer smoking on a sidewalk in Alabang. It was a jeepney loading and unloading area–clearly a no-smoking zone, per the MMDA directive–but there he was: a middle-aged man in uniform breaking the law he’s meant to implement. It can be argued that it happened before the official start of the ban, but that time falls under the “warning” period, which is a month prior to the strict enforcement of the ban. During that time, officers were supposed to issue warnings to citizens in violation of the campaign. So did Mr. Smoking Traffic Guy issue himself a warning? Or did his fellow Mr. Traffic Guys issue him a warning? Highly doubtful.

The main problem in the Philippines is discipline. From being a pioneering country in Asia and one of the region’s most economically stable nation, we’ve been reduced to a poverty-ridden, pollution-filled group of islands with almost 100 million people. One can argue that corruption is the culprit, being almost a deep-rooted tradition in our political landscape.  That is accurate, at an extent, but what is anybody really doing about it?

We are all aware of the existence of a certain law that prohibits the use of smoke-belching vehicles, right? Yet, how many such vehicles still roam these streets of Metro Manila? One in 20? One in 10? There was a time that traffic officers were running around town, catching every black smoke-emitting vehicle. And then, they stopped. Almost immediately, the streets were filled with smoke again.

Do you remember that time when vendors were not allowed to conduct business on the sidewalk? That campaign has been going on and off for a long time. As part of the MMDA’s so-called sidewalk clearing operation, each incarnation of the project would see extensive media coverage and commendations from different sectors for the agency’s commitment to cleanliness and whatnot. Then, when the cameras are turned off, the vendors return to their sidewalk spots and it was business as usual.

Same goes for the anti-piracy campaign. The police, the Optical Media Board and whatever agency has jurisdiction would raid piracy hotspots (aka pirated DVD retail spaces) like there’s no tomorrow. And they’d smash the DVDs and burn them, all for us to see that they’re doing their job. But why are pirated DVDs still widely available? It’s not like vendors are hiding under a bridge. Everyone knows where they are–on the same spots, where they always have been. Is it so hard to stop people from committing these criminal acts? Or did someone rich and powerful pay off these underpaid officials to look the other way while they conduct their illegal trade? Pirated DVDs are banned totally. Yet, we see policemen standing a few feet away from vendors.

Laws are being broken at an unbelievable rate. It’s not even funny anymore. What would be amusing is if MMDA and city government enforcers still catch smoking offenders a couple of months from now. Because, chances are, and this is based on their track record, that they’ll forget that there was even a ban to begin with and simply light up together with everybody else. Just like how they forgot all their other initiatives. But if they do take the ban seriously and strictly enforce it on a permanent basis while still keeping the other campaigns forgotten, wouldn’t that seem like an act of injustice?



  1. IF YOU SMOKE YOU’LL DIE. IF YOU DON’T SMOKE STILL YOU’LL DIE. WHY NOT JUST SMOKE AND DIE? That’s only a joke. But I still believe that smoking is really hazardous to health. I QUIT SMOKING IN 1987 OR 24 YEARS AGO. AND I NEVER TRIED GOING BACK TO THAT VICE SINCE THEN.

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