MANILA, PHILIPPINES: A Filipino smokes a cigarette on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. —AP
MANILA, PHILIPPINES: A Filipino smokes a cigarette on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. —AP

MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is turning to another battle aside from illegal drugs: smoking. Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told the Associated Press on Tuesday that she hopes the president can sign the draft executive order banning smoking in public nationwide before the end of the month.

The department is pushing for the ban to start before the law providing for graphic health warnings on tobacco products is fully implemented on Nov. 4. Ubial said Duterte wants a 100 percent smoke-free environment in public places similar to Davao, the southern city where he was formerly mayor.

Away from public

Designated smoking areas are to be outdoors and away from the public, and local government units will be asked to issue ordinances to enforce the smoking ban and set penalties. She said e-cigarettes will be included in the ban because they too produce smoke.

Ubial said there is no reason for smokers and tobacco companies to oppose the ban. "I don't see any reason why they will oppose that," she told the AP. "We're not stopping them from smoking, we are just telling them not to smoke around non-smokers."

Ubial said the smoking ban was successful in Davao because the city government strictly enforced it and created a task force of enforcers specifically to implement the ban. It was not just an add-on work for the police. It will be up to provinces and towns to determine if they will follow that example, and what penalties they will impose for violators, she said.

The executive order takes effect immediately after Duterte signs it, but the rules to implement it will need to be crafted by national government agencies and by local governments through ordinances. Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag said the order aims to protect the public from secondhand or thirdhand smoke - that inhaled when a smoker is nearby or when smoke lingers afterward.

Duterte took office on June 30 vowing to expand policies from Davao such as his anti-drug campaign. The crackdown has left about 3,600 suspected drug pushers and users dead, including more than 1,500 suspects killed in gunbattles with police. The killings have been widely condemned by human rights advocates, and the United States, European Union and United Nations.

Many have wondered if Duterte would also expand a Davao ban on powerful firecrackers during New Year's Eve revelry. If the ban is imposed nationally, he would bring a major change in a violent celebratory tradition that has caused deaths and hundreds of injuries each year.-AP