Metro Manila smoking crackdown: another case of sweating the small stuff

So I read that the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is going to “crackdown” on smoking in the metropolis. Interesting. Apparently, the legal basis for this “crackdown” is Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003. Note the year: 2003. Makes one wonder what our so-called “law enforcement” officials have been doing for the last eight years.

But that’s beside the point.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Said MMDA “chief of health public safety and environment protection” Loida Labao Alzona:

[…] persons with lit cigarettes, even if they are not puffing on them, will be fined. “We are after the protection of the non-smokers,”

Such concern for the hapless “non-smokers” of Metro Manila.

Brings tears to my eyes.

This is, after all, the MMDA, the agency that is responsible not only for mounting “crackdowns” on smoking but also nabbing violators of other city ordinances — like those that seek to curb air pollution, for example…

According to the Bank’s 2000 Annual Review, in Manila alone more than 4,000 Filipinos die each year because of air pollution. The mortality figure is the third highest for a city in the east Asian region after Beijing and Jakarta. Bangkok and Seoul were ranked 4th and 5th.

Beside the deaths, 90,000 Filipinos in Manila also suffer from severe chronic bronchitis, costing the government 7 percent of its gross domestic product in terms of health costs, the Bank said, citing statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) which did pollution and health studies in 126 countries last year.

Another study highlighted the primary contributors to the fouling of Manila’s already toxic air…

Particulate emissions in Manila are largely from motor vehicles (84 percent), solid waste burning (10 percent), and industries (5.5 percent). Seventy percent of these motor vehicle emissions come from the more than 200,000 diesel-powered utility vehicles—such as jeepneys and the 170,000 gasoline-powered motorcycles and tricycles in the city.

So let’s do a bit of back-envelope mathematics. Between impounding a bus that is guilty, among other things, of spewing diesel exhaust into hapless Metro Manilans’ faces and nabbing the hapless smoker who is merely trying to look cool, which of the two will deliver the bigger bang for the buck?

This is a classic example of that quintessentially Filipino small-minded tingi approach applied to what is a big systemic problem — another instance of the renowned Heritage of Smallness of the Filipino revealing itself.

The black fumes coming out of a bus or the telltale grey-white smoke coming from an illegal backyard solid waste burning can be tracked by a spotter miles away and law enforcement officers called in to apprehend the offending party. In one day, if it really wanted to, the MMDA can suspend the operations of a hundred-odd smoke-belching buses and round up the same number of amateur garbage incinerators which could then, in theory, permanently rid the city of a source of pollution that could impact dozens, if not hundreds, of lives. And that’s just in that one hypothetical honest day’s work that the MMDA could deliver — if it really wanted to, that is.

Smokers, on the other hand, are a different sort of search-and-destroy mission. You need officers on foot patrol to spot them, issue citations, and do the paperwork at the end of the day for each apprehension. And for what? The combined amount of offending fumes generated by a hundred-odd smokers is dwarfed by that of a single smoke-belching bus whose apprehension requires the same amount of manpower and resources required to process an illegal smoker.

Furthermore, there is always the possibility of addressing the problem at its source. In the case of of smoke-belching vehicles, at the time these vehicles are registered, and in the case of smoking at the point of sale of the cigarettes themselves — perhaps by levying a bigger tax on businesses that sell them within city limits.

But this is the Philippines and these are Filipinos we are talking about here. It’s just too hard. Too hard on the little pointed heads even to just consider the multitude of sensible possibilities.

10 Replies to “Metro Manila smoking crackdown: another case of sweating the small stuff”

  1. They ban people who are smoking; on the reason of polluting the air. However, they cannot remove the squatters along the river banks, under the bridges, and on other areas…these people are polluting the rivers; clogging the esteros, causing yearly floodings.
    This is how our public officials think and see. They see the small issues…but, they remain blind on the large issues…It is just gross stupidity…

  2. what should we expect? pinoys are experts at looking busy. if using a spoon to dig a well wasn’t so obviously numbskulled, we’d see more of that, too.

    hey does anybody notice that whoever the hell the manila mayor is, jones bridge ALWAYS has maybe 50 freaking weak lightbulbs for each of maybe a dozen lampposts, the work of which could be done by just one decent street bulb on each post?

    people in public office must really think we’re all idiots to not notice.

  3. I was a chain smoker. Consuming at least 3 packs a day and sometimes up to 5 packs a day if I would stay late in the evening with my friends (and dependents – those who smoke but don’t want to buy for themselves).

    I managed to quit not because of health reason but because of economic reason. Uso na rin ang non-smoker. Nakigaya na rin ako.

    This claim:

    “[…] persons with lit cigarettes, even if they are not puffing on them, will be fined. “We are after the protection of the non-smokers,”

    Jeez, the person who is claiming that one I can guarantee you is a global warming believer.

    Smoking is bad for the health but SHS is something that is overboard every where you look at it.

    I still have to see somebody who really got sick due to second hand smoke. Irritated maybe…

    1. There is irrefutable scientific and medical evidence that 2nd hand smoke is as deadly or more so (no filters). Christopher Reeve’s wife Dana, who never smoked, died of lung cancer at 44 after being exposed to 2nd hand smoke in the nightclubs she sang in for many years.

    2. “Secondhand smoke kills, you know. It’s far worse than the fumes you inhale directly.

      Take diethylene, one of those nasty carcinogens your doctor might have warned you about on your last visit.

      Firsthand smoke has between 5.3 and 43 nanograms of diethylene, where as, secondhand smoke has 680 and 823 nanograms.Then we’ve got quinoline, another effective one, secondhand smoke has 18,000 nanograms; 11 times more than the amount you’re sucking down firsthand.

      You can make the choice to blacken your lungs, but don’t expect to enforce that on me.”

      This is from an anime I watch. 😀

  4. Benigno, Ilda, Trosp, Parallellhatchet . . . I have penned an insightful rebuttal to those of you who relentlessly claim the Philippines is backwards. This article must certainly be considered a candidate for blog of the year, being so witty and slyly obtuse that readers will actually have to think to grasp what I am saying. It will be painful for them, but as Pacquiao knows, no pain, no gain. . .

    You will find this gem at:

    Now, it is not that I am pushing myself for financial gain or any untoward reason. It is just that I laughed so hard in the writing of it that I must share my snickering, snorting glee. It may be that the bent-of-brain style flowed from my current reading of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.
    What a genius, that Dickens dude . . .

    It is interesting . . . his books will never become backward, no matter how old they get. They remain fresh because our human condition never really changes.

    We are fools, for the most part . . . as he describes us . . .

    In that regard, the Philippines is no different than any other land.

    1. @joe: is your comments section moderated? i tried twice and i don’t see my comment (yet), so i’ll post my comment on your article here.

      if there’s one thing i’ve always known is that you write much better than i hope to be able to, joeam, and i admit i enjoyed reading this post.

      it’s true, that for the state of one place to be backwards it has to be so, relative to another. in the absence of some point of comparison the term is meaningless.

      so gabbyd might argue that what might be good enough for one might not be for someone else, and vice versa, implying that the truth can’t be claimed by either one while disagreement on standards holds. does it mean we can forget about having particular standards in the first place to peg as what should be? no.

      maybe it’s the divide in standards that classifies people into tiers of aspirations and accomplishments; but it doesn’t mean the “simplest,” most unambitious of aim or standards is immune to comparison. and it’s interesting to note that living for very long in the philippines gets one used to observing people settling for whatever falls on their lap and muttering “tenks gad.” the question isn’t whether anybody’s ideals represent the actual truth (because that will always be in dispute), but rather, whether filipino society is shooting for a high enough target to set everything straight for the sake of the generations succeeding it. heck, we ought to be setting a high enough target for the generations alive today.

      the way things are can’t be good enough for the b.o.p., even if some of us would call it a simple life.

      1. it’s true, that for the state of one place to be backwards it has to be so, relative to another. in the absence of some point of comparison the term is meaningless.

        Yes! Having been unaware of civilization outside, the indigenous tribes recently found in Brazil do not consider themselves “backwards.” As far as they are concerned, they are living the way they normally would or should.

      2. Parallax, I’m out of town but will check the site when I return. Perhaps the system dumped you into the spam file, not that I would ever do that myself. Heh

        I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I think you will find that we agree on quite a lot, the main exception being how much latitude we are willing to grant President Aquino.

        I certainly agree with your statement that Filipinos ought to have high targets for TODAY. As a gift to their children . . .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.