Over 17M Filipinos are smokers, study shows, 18/03/10

MANILA, Philippines—About 17.3 million Filipinos aged 15 years old and above are tobacco smokers with at least 13.8 million smoking daily, the Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) showed.

The survey is the first study on the prevalence of smoking in the country, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Thursday.

 Of the 9,705 individuals from rural and urban areas aged 15 years and older (representing 61.3 million Filipinos) polled in 2009, 28.3 percent (representing 17.3 million Filipinos) were tobacco smokers. About 22.5 percent (or 13.8 million Filipinos) of the total number of smokers, smoked every day, the study showed.

This despite that 94 percent of the surveyed smokers said they were aware smoking causes serious illness such as lung cancer, heart attack and stroke.

The GATS is a standardized global survey for monitoring adult tobacco use and tracking key tobacco control indicators. The Philippine GATS is a project of the DoH with the National Statistics Office as its field implementing agency. Technical support was provided by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the daily smokers 18 to 34 years old, the average age they began to puff on a cigarette was 17.4, the study found.

Almost half of those surveyed, 48.8 percent, said they were exposed to cigarette smoke at home and 54 percent said that someone smokes at least monthly in their homes.

The survey found that 55.3 percent or 28 million Filipinos who used public transport were exposed to second hand smoking, followed by Filipinos who work indoors, 13.9 percent; and those who visited government buildings, 25.5 percent.

Despite the ban against advertisements of tobacco use and smoking, the survey found that about 75 percent of Filipinos notice more and find enticing cigarette advertisements.

“With the results, we aim to have cigarette manufacturers to put graphic health warnings on half of the packaging of their products, enforce the ban on tobacco advertisements, and work for 100 percent smoke free environments—at homes, public places and indoors,” said Cabral.

“In Germany, Finland and the US, second hand smoke is classified as a Class A carcinogen grouped with asbestos and Radon that mere exposure to it means serious public hazard. Filipinos should be made aware of this, especially those who are smoking at home because not only are you encouraging future smokers, you expose your family to cancer,” said Doctor Susan Mercado, regional adviser of WHO Tobacco Free initiative.

Tobacco is an addiction that can be prevented if there is good implementation of laws coupled with a cessation intervention program to assist those who want to quit smoking, such as those installed in Singapore where only nine percent of the population smoke.

Doctor Soe Nyunt-U, WHO Representative in the Philippines, said that the Philippines, which is among the top 14 countries with high prevalence of tobacco use, must reduce by 10 percent the number of smokers in the country over the next five years.

To do this, he said there is a need for a clear legislation mandating manufacturers to put graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, instead of textual warnings that are less effective in making smokers quit or enforcing warning of the ill effects of tobacco among the young who wanted to try smoking.

He said that by September 2008, the Philippines, as a signatory of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), should have passed the law on picture-based warnings on tobacco products.

“We are against a very strong industry that will use all its resources to prevent legislative advance of this measures, such as the ratification of the FCTC. The manufacturers can comply with these because the products they export to to Thailand, for example, include picture-based health messages on the bad effects of smoking. But they would not do that because they know that it is an effective measure to reduce those who would attempt to smoke and make smokers quit as seen in other countries,” said Soe.

Doctor Maricar Limpin, executive director of non-profit Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Aliance Philippines (FCAP), said there should be strict enforcement of the ban on tobacco ads, which promote smoking among the youth.

“Those ads on sari-sari stores are supposedly banned by 2007. These glamorous ads is playing a big role in the continuous perception of smoking as something ‘in’ or ‘cool’ and lures the youth to try it,” said Limpin.

Limpin challenged the next president to institute measures to reduce the number of Filipino smokers and to pass relevant laws such as the imposition of a uniform taxation scheme on sin products that would discourage smokers from lighting cigarettes.

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