Filipino children still exposed to tobacco ads despite ban

October 30, 2013

MANILA – Children continue to see tobacco advertising despite a marketing ban prescribed by Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Control Act. The law, enacted in 2003, prohibits the advertising of cigarettes in various forms of media and in stores where tobacco products are being sold.

“Ten years after the implementation of the law, you can still see posters of tobacco products all over sari-sari stores where children often go to buy candy or run errands. They may not be exposed to cigarette ads in the movies or on television, but sari-sari stores have become a haven for tobacco companies to promote smoking,” said Emer Rojas, Global Cancer Ambassador and President of NewVois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), in a news release

Rojas said aside from posters displayed at sari-sari stores, some retail establishments have their signage made by tobacco companies that also bear the name of their products. These displays, according to him, send a strong signal that influence children to take up smoking at a very early age.

Targeting kids

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in six low- and middle-income countries, including China, showed that two-thirds of children aged five to six year olds can identify at least one tobacco brand. The study noted that children get their exposure to these products mainly through their environment such as in posters on retail stores.

“Tobacco companies are targeting kids as replacement for adult smokers with low and middle-income countries like the Philippines experiencing the full impact of this aggressive marketing. The industry is doing its best to circumvent the law by challenging technicalities like what ‘point-of-sale establishments,’ mean,” said Rojas, who has turned as an anti-tobacco advocate after contracting laryngeal cancer due to smoking that started when he was a teenager.

Tobacco companies are also marketing their products to children and women by coming up with attractive packs such as those that look like chocolate bars and colorful labeling.

Smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. If the epidemic continues, it is estimated that around 250 million youth will die of smoking and between 80,000 to 100,000 will be addicted to nicotine every day, according to the study.

The Philippines has one of the highest youth smokers in Southeast Asia with 17.5% girls and 28.3% boys aged 13-15 years consuming tobacco. It ranks second to Indonesia in the most number of adult smokers in the region at 17.3 million.

Rojas said placing graphic health warnings on labels would reverse the effects of tobacco advertising especially on children.

“It’s very clear what advertising does to influence children to take up smoking. The Centers for Disease Control calls this as ‘pediatric epidemic.’ If children see pictures of cancer victims and all other graphic images on the harmful effects of smoking, these may discourage them from initiating smoking and at the same time encourage current smokers to quit,” he explains.

The World Health Organization recommends graphic health warnings and higher taxes on tobacco products as the most efficient means to decrease tobacco consumption and deter would-be smokers from taking up the deadly vice.

The Department of Health issued an executive order in 2010 that instructs the placement of picture-based warnings on cigarette packs but this is yet to be implemented as tobacco companies challenge this in courts.

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