Inside the Phillipines
|John Chapin||May 11th 2009|
The campaign against smoking, which kills close to 90,000 people a year in the Philippines - on a par with the number of deaths in natural disasters or conflicts - is becoming a losing battle.
“My friends look so cool smoking,” Arnold Santos of Mandaluyong City said, who took up the habit out of peer pressure. “Now, I smoke 10 cigarettes a day,” the 17-year-old, who has no plans of quitting just yet, said.
Despite the passage of the Tobacco Control Act, more Filipino youths are now smoking, “indicating that the law has not been effective”, Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), said.
The 2003 act sets both the guidelines for and regulation of the packaging, sale, distribution and advertisements of tobacco products.
Among others, it mandates the printing of warnings in either English or Filipino of the harmful effects of smoking.
Yet a recent global youth tobacco survey showed that smoking prevalence among Filipino youth had jumped from 15 percent in 2003 to 21.6 percent in 2007.
“We are losing the war against smoking,” Limpin conceded.
At least 240 Filipinos die each day - 87,600 a year - from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, cardiac arrest, stroke and other chronic-obstructive lung failures, the health department reported.
These figures are based on the 2005-2006 Tobacco and Poverty Study in the Philippines conducted by the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines, National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The figures are higher than Malaysia and Vietnam, where 10,000 and 40,000 people respectively die each year from smoking-related diseases, but lower than Indonesia, where 400,000 people die annually.
Since 2007, separate bills have been pending with lawmakers to introduce the printing of graphic health warnings.
An FCAP survey on 10,000 Filipino youths revealed they were more receptive to graphic warnings than text warnings.
Limpin said the survey showed that the graphic design had a better ability to convey the health risks related to smoking and some said it stopped them from buying cigarettes.
While the visual warning has little effect on long-time smokers, preventing young people from taking up the habit would deny tobacco companies a new market, Limpin said.
“The industry knows that the introduction of graphic warnings threatens its future market,” Limpin said.
In the Senate, the bill is now being discussed in the plenary. But in the House, composed of district and party list representatives from all 78 provinces, the bill has not passed the committee level because of opposition from legislators.
“It is being blocked because of fears it could kill the tobacco industry,” Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza, main author of the anti-smoking bill, said.
According to the National Tobacco Authority, more than 57,000 farmers are engaged in tobacco farming.
La Union Rep. Victor Francisco said the main flaw of the bill was that it would raise the prices of local tobacco products compared with imports.
To compete, local manufacturers would have no choice but to increase their prices because of the additional cost, he said.
In addition, the bill failed to factor in the repercussions on local livelihoods; almost two million people depend on the tobacco industry.
“Our tobacco farmers, especially in the north, cannot easily shift to other crops because the soil is not compatible with other produce,” Francisco said.
The WHO’s Tobacco Framework Convention on Tobacco, to which the Philippines is a signatory, recommends the use of effective campaigns against tobacco consumption. Article 11 requires that state signatories adopt effective measures by September 2008, but the Philippines missed the deadline.