Despite grim figures, tobacco use among RP youth on the rise, 13/08/11

Tobacco use-related ailments kill 87,600 Filipinos each year: That’s 240 lives lost every day, or 10 Filipinos per hour from emphysema, lung cancer, cancers of the mouth and throat and other ailments linked to tobacco consumption.

Despite these alarming figures, cigarette smoking among the Filipino youth is on the rise. The 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey shows that more than one in five Filipino students smoke. This begs the question of how parents can protect their children from the dangers of tobacco use.

According to economist Jo-Ann Latuja of HealthJustice, one of the most dangerous factors that encourage kids to smoke is the fact that Philippine cigarettes are so cheap. Costing an acerage of just P 2.50, one cigarette stick costs the same as a candy bar, maybe even less.

“Tobacco is a product you don’t want your kids to get their hands on,” Latuja said. “But unless we impose recommendations that will make cigarettes unaffordable to our children, more kids are likely to get into this addiction.” Latuja is also a research associate at the University of the Philippines School of Economics.

One solution to deterring children from lighting up is to price the products you don’t want them to use out of their buying capacity.

Studies have shown that every 10-percent increase in the real price of cigarettes reduces the number of young-adult smokers by 3.5 percent, and reduces the number of kids who smoke by six to seven percent. This is why health groups are calling for the government to raise the prices of and taxes on cigarettes — to make it unaffordable for children. This is a tax-driven health measure that is practiced in countries like Thailand and Singapore.

The WHO and World Bank recommend that cigarette tax should constitute at least 70 percent (with value added tax) of the retail price. Latuja said that, for cigarettes sold locally to meet this standard, a uniform specific tax of P30 per pack must be imposed, after the system shifts to a single tax level.

It is also imperative to index tobacco taxes to inflation, and set regular increases “to ensure that your kids won’t be able to afford cigarettes with their small allowances,” Latuja said.

All these recommendations can be found in the research paper titled “Taxing Health Risks” authored by lawyers Deborah Sy, Marivic Leonen and Irene Reyes and by Latuja.

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