By Dominique Gabriel G. Bañaga
Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia issued an executive order last week creating the Bacolod Anti-Smoking Task Force (BASTF), which will both enforce the public smoking ban, recently implemented by President Rodrigo Duterte, and crackdown on the proliferation of fraudulent tobacco products.
According to City Councilor Caesar Distrito, he will be chairing the task force alongside Atty. Ed Cuansing, secretary to the mayor.
He explained, in terms of enforcing the smoking ban, there will be strict implementation of the smoking ban by the Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO), the Bacolod Traffic Authority Office (BTAO), and the City Legal Office.
Included among the task force duties are the issuance of citation tickets, which will be given to violators of the public smoking ban.
The health officer, meanwhile, will oversee the distribution of tickets and is tasked with establishing a hotline where individuals can report violations via phone call or text message. The legal officer, then, reviews the gathered reports.
Beyond the enforcement matter, there is also an information campaign, which will also be tasked to the City Health Office (CHO), alongside the public information officer, the local Liga ng mga Barangay (Liga), the environment and natural resources officer, and the schools division superintendent. Each division will be in charge of creating an awareness campaign for their specific constituency or jurisdiction.
The order cites City Ordinance 641, which places an absolute prohibition of smoking in public areas, including schools, parks, malls, restaurants, cinemas, among others.
Distrito noted, minors are prohibited from buying and using cigarettes and, if caught, will be charged P500 for the first offense, P1,000 on the second offense, and P2,500 or 30 days behind bars on the third.
He added, establishments caught violating the ordinance and ban will be fined and their business permits will be cancelled.
In regards to unlicensed tobacco products, the order cites RA 9211, or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, ensuring “the interests of tobacco farmers, growers, workers, and other stakeholders are not adversely compromised.”
The order also points out, the city government is aware, despite the illegality of non-compliant cigarette products, “they remain unregulated by government.”
The city administrator will assist the task force in implementing relevant ordinances, along with overseeing the destruction of seized tobacco products.
In July of last year, a local Bacolod City vendor was apprehended by members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) for selling counterfeit Marlboro, Jackpot, Camel, and Marvels brand cigarettes. Later, in December, the National Bureau of Investigation-Negros Island Region (NBI-NIR) raided a stall at a mall along Luzuriaga Street and recovered 14 boxes of fake cigarettes.
According to City Councilor Caesar Distrito, one way of identifying fake cigarettes is the lack of a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) stamp.
However, it has been reported, some counterfeit products also come with counterfeit tax stamps./WDJ