Adapting to changes
Upon learning the new recommendations on smoking policies, Janel Reco, a clothing retail business owner in Pampanga, adapted these in her office and warehouse.
Janel has over 50 employees working for her growing online store. Although they work on a shifting and flexible schedule, she makes sure that everyone observes minimum health protocols such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and regular hand washing.
She acknowledges that she has many workers who smoke. Janel, a non-smoker, knows that banning smoking is impossible. “I am not a fan of smoking,” Janel says. “But I recognize that many of my people love their yosi breaks so they can rest or relax.”
She continues, “Before pandemic, some workers will just smoke anywhere they like as long as it is outside. So be it on the side of the warehouse or at the back, I am not very particular.”
But with the surge of cases, Janel also wants to protect her workers and their families.
She determined a specific open area at the back of her warehouse where employees can smoke. All she requires is that employees must smoke individually.
“What I did was provide an open space for them. I only ask them to limit their time, and they must not smoke in groups. It should be one at a time.”
For her part, Janel also takes health protocols seriously. Janel wants to protect her family by ensuring that her work does not contribute to the further transmission of the virus. She believes that as long as there is a designated area for smokers, there will be no problem for non-smokers like her. It is also important for her that people follow health protocols because the virus is still here.
Safer smoking areas
For Lei Gonzales, a general manager of a construction company in Baguio City, their company does not release guidelines against smoking as long as it is not within their premises.
She says, “Companies where smoking is prohibited, especially within the company premises, it’s up to the employee on how and where will they smoke. No necessary guidelines to be released by the company when it is outside the company premises.”
Lei believes as well that everyone must observe proper protocols to help in curbing the virus. “For one’s protection, observe social distancing even if the place doesn’t expressly require people to do so,” she adds. “You’re doing it for your safety anyway.”
Meanwhile, Beth Tiongco, admin officer of a building in Ortigas, reveals that smoking is entirely prohibited within their vicinity. This means there is no allotted smoking area in the building–be it an outdoor smoking area or an indoor.
“We implement a strict no smoking policy in our building. And I think this is also what most buildings here in Ortigas do.”
She acknowledges, however, that few employees often go to street vendors and food vendors and hide through their make-shift food cart for a quick puff. Beth also shared how some employees would go to underpasses or under the bridges where cigarette vendors sell.
Beth also recognizes the LGU’s mandate of a smoke-free environment according to the EO 26. They rely on the recommendation of the LGU when it comes to COVID-19 protocols.
According to Atty. Ben Nisperos of HealthJustice, 86 cities have already complied with the EO 26. They are tasked to establish smoke-free task forces.
“Cities are encouraged to establish smoke-free task forces to ensure the sustainability of implementation and enforcement of EO 26 in their respective localities,” he says.
Atty. Nisperos explains that it is the LGUs responsibility to allot budget to these initiatives. He cites duties like patrolling areas of high smoking prevalence, regulating smoking reselling licenses, monitoring smoking areas in establishments, and in areas where there is an absolute prohibition against smoking like health facilities and government offices.
Atty. Nisperos noted that cities do not have a sustainability plan in their smoke-free ordinances. “Pre pandemic, LGUs are already implementing smoke-free ordinances. Major challenges include funding, structural support within the LGUs, and leadership or political will.”
The pandemic further pushed back a stronger implementation. Atty. Nisperos enumerated the challenges that come with implementing smoke-free environments during the pandemic. This includes regulating smoking in establishments and preventing community transmissions in designated smoking areas.
Gerald’s company has recently announced its return-to-office policy. Although he prefers his current working set-up, he is alright with going back to the office. Regarding smoking policies, Gerald would understand the limitations that come with it.
He is also aware of the health risks of smoking in connection with COVID-19. “I know the risk of smoking, but I don’t see myself stopping. I actually tried stopping during the pandemic, but stress and anxiety make me smoke more.”
Although this is his current stand on smoking, Gerald still thinks of its harm.
As a smoker, he prefers outdoor spaces to enclosed as he is also aware of transmission possibilities.
“I still believe that COVID-19 is here, and we have to live with it. I would rather smoke outside than indoors because it is safer.”
He also does his little ways of preventing COVID-19 infection, such as drinking vitamins and a weekly run.
When asked what he is looking forward to upon returning to work, Gerald surmises a policy change. He expects stricter guidelines, but he is fine with it.
“As long as there is a dedicated area, it is fine,” Gerald says. “If none, I guess smokers like me would have to think of other ways to light up a stick between work.”
He adds, “It’s either we hold the urge, or we find a way.”
While we are slowly getting back on our feet, the fact remains the same—COVID-19 and nicotine addiction are still here—a double public health danger that requires double the effort to eliminate.
This story was produced under the ‘Nagbabagang Kuwento (Cycle 5) Covering a Smoke-Free Ph Media Fellowship’ by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and CTFK.