Men smoke cigarettes near a tray filled with stubs beside a road in Manila. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro
Men smoke cigarettes near a tray filled with stubs beside a road in Manila. Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to sign a regulation this month banning smoking in public across Southeast Asia’s second-most populous country, rolling out among the toughest anti-tobacco laws in the region.

Public health campaigners who have long battled against the country’s hefty tobacco lobby welcomed the push to end smoking in public places and said they believed Duterte, with his tough anti-vice record, was the man to do it.

Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial told Reuters she hoped the president would sign the ban, which expands the definition of public places, into law before the end of October and that it would come into effect next month.

She was quoted by newspapers as saying that smoking would be banned in public places, whether indoor or outdoor.

“Parks, bus stations, and even in vehicles. All these are considered public places,” she said, according to media. She later clarified the law would apply only to public vehicles.

Designated smoking areas will be set up, at least 10 meters outside buildings, according to a draft of the executive order seen by Reuters.

Around 17 million people, or nearly a third of the adult population, smoke in the Philippines, according to a 2014 report by Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance – the second highest in the region after Indonesia.

Nearly half of all Filipino men and 9% of women smoke and experts say the habit costs the economy nearly US$4 billion in healthcare and productivity losses every year.

Marlboro owner Philip Morris International, estimated to hold more than 70% of the Philippines market through its joint venture with Fortune Tobacco, will be among the international producers most affected by the proposed ban.

In 2015, the Philippines accounted for almost 1 in every 13 cigarettes sold by Philip Morris globally, though analysts estimated it was worth a far smaller 2% of profit.

A spokeswoman for Philip Morris International referred queries on the proposed ban to the Philippine Tobacco Institute, which represents tobacco interests in the country.

The proposed smoking ban replicates on a national level an existing law in Davao City, where Duterte ruled as mayor for 22 years until his rise to the presidency earlier this year.

Penalties for breaking the anti-smoking law in Davao can include a 5,000 Philippine peso (US$103) fine or four months in prison.