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Politics

Duterte's smoking ban proves a success in Manila

Tough-guy president takes aim at a public health menace

These Manila smokers have found a place to puff, despite tougher anti-smoking rules.

MANILA -- Smokers have become a rare sight in the Philippine capital, six months after President Rodrigo Duterte's ban on smoking in public places came into effect. 

The ban, among the toughest in Asia, has forced many smoking sections in the city's central areas to close. In the business district of Makati, with a high concentration of offices buildings, commercial complexes and restaurants, many smoking sections have been eliminated or relegated to remote corners, making smokers feel out of place.

Aia Baretto, a 28-year-old online marketing worker, said it is now hard for her to find a place to take puff. 

"It doesn't really discourage smoking," Baretto said, cynically. "It encourages research to know where the designated smoking areas are in each city, which restaurants have smoking areas, et cetera."

The nationwide ban, which took effect last July, prohibits smoking in the streets, in restaurants and on public transportation,  requiring smokers to use designated smoking areas. Violators are subject to fines.

While the Philippines had a previous law limiting smoking in public places, many smokers simply ignored it.

That has started to change under the new ban, although the police have not been brought in to watch out for violators.

Perhaps the effectiveness of the new ban has something to do with Duterte's image as being brutally tough on crime. There have been no noticeable public protests against the ban.

Ironically, if the ban is successful in bringing down smoking, Duterte, who is often criticized for his hard-line policies, may be credited for accomplishing something progressive.

Duterte himself was a smoker when he was young, but has since given it up. As mayor of the southern city of Davao, he issued an anti-smoking order out of concern for the health of citizens, leading to a dramatic reduction in the local smoking rate.

So far, the ban has not proven effective on a national level. In November, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III instructed local governments to follow the examples of Davao and Makati in enforcing it more rigorously.

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