POLICY ANALYSIS REPORT: Graphic Health Warnings Law (Part 4)

POLICY EVALUATION

Evidence is one factor that influence policy-making and this can be generated through research. Research is a scientific process designed to produce new knowledge to improve the understanding of the world or to explain a phenomenon. It has substantially contributed to this policy in many ways at various stages of the policy cycle. The succeeding sections present the role of research in these stages.

Issue Recognition and Policy Identification

Research, in the early stages of the policy cycle, helped define the nature and severity of the problem. It helped issues get into the government’s policy agenda. Research evidence were effectively utilized by several policy actors such as the WHO, DOH, and anti-tobacco groups.

Health statistics from the DOH provided policy actors and the public with the information about the health effects of tobacco use, specifically tobacco-related diseases. This information supported the argument for the enactment of better, stricter tobacco control policies that will lessen the burden of these diseases.

National and global surveys such as the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) and the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) helped monitor tobacco use among Filipino adults and the youth. These surveys provided essential information regarding the tobacco epidemic. These surveys covered essential indicators such as (1) knowledge and attitudes towards cigarette smoking, (2) prevalence of cigarette smoking, (3) role of media and advertising in the use of cigarettes, (4) access to cigarettes, (5) environmental tobacco smoke, and (6) cessation of cigarette smoking. Information from these surveys stimulated the development of tobacco control policies and programs in the country.

Global and local surveys proving the ineffectiveness of text-only health warnings on cigarettes products to change smoking behavior prompted policy actors to review existing policy options. As such, studies proving the effectiveness of large graphic health warnings in changing smoking behavior and deterring non-smokers from taking up the habit were used as justifications for the enactment of a policy similar to the recommendations of the WHO.

Policy Formulation

Research has also played a significant role in the formulation of the policy. The WHO FCTC, a set of tobacco control guidelines established from systematic review of research evidence, contributed to the introduction of strong health warnings and the adoption of graphic health warnings in the country.

In the Philippines, a concept test on cigarette packaging designs was conducted by FCAP in 2007 through a quantitative Concept Acceptance Test. The nationwide study provided a background on the public’s perception about smoking and its health effects. Likewise, the study provided feedback on various graphic health warning mock-ups that helped anti-tobacco advocates choose which were the most effective for the Philippine market.

Policy Implementation

Currently, no study has explored the impact and effect of the graphic health warnings on smoking behaviors of Filipino smokers nationwide. A small study, however, that explored how graphic health warnings had affected smoking behavior of Quezon City residents was conducted by UP Diliman Communication Research students in 2016.

The researchers surveyed 402 Quezon City smokers and conducted two focus group discussions from October to November 2016. The results of the study suggest that thinking about the dangers of smoking and correct knowledge of smoking-related diseases are the strongest factors correlated with the intention to quit or change smoking behavior which is in congruence with the overall goal of the GHW law (Aseo et al., 2016).

The study also presented aspects of the implementation where the policy is problematic. First, the fact that buying cigarette on a per-stick basis is prevalent in the Philippines greatly reduces the probability of smokers being informed of the dangers of tobacco use. And second, most smokers do not rely on tobacco packages for health information. Majority of smokers actually rely on other media (i.e. television) for information on smoking.

What’s Next?

While current evidence suggests that graphic health warnings are effective in informing smokers of the health effects of tobacco consumption, future research will be helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of graphic health warnings in changing consumer behavior (i.e. decreasing tobacco consumption, deterring non-smokers from initiating smoking). Findings from future studies will eventually determine the fate of the policy – whether to improve or repeal the policy.

 

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