Philippines: DepEd to strengthen campaign against smoking, vaping for a healthier nation

1 June 2023

By Rory Visco, BusinessMirror

FOR someone, regardless of age, to be enticed to take that smoking whiff can be attributed to a lot of factors, whether through peer pressure from most-of-the-time immature friends, classmates, neighbors, or perhaps even strangers in a public place like a bar.

One may promise not to give in to temptation, but is nevertheless defeated by relentless prodding, that it’s just a simple puff that may seem quite harmless. However, one ends up liking it—not just liking it but sadly, getting addicted to it.

And that supposedly simple and innocuous puff again claims a life, a life destined to suffer from other health-related upheavals.

Tobacco’s terrible toll

THE 2021 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) revealed that among adults or those aged 15 years and up, 15.1 million currently smoke, or about one in every five Filipino adults, with 34.7 percent composed of men and 4.2 percent represented by women, and 1.5 percent are engaged in using smokeless tobacco products, 2.3 percent of which are men and 0.7 percent women.

On June 4, 2019, Congress ratified Republic Act 11346, a piece of legislation that imposes an excise tax, or a tax on the production, sale or consumption of a commodity, such as fuel, alcohol and tobacco, among others.

Still, despite legislative measures enacted to stymie the use of tobacco, it continues to be a pressing public health concern according to Dr. Ted Herbosa, a former Department of Health (DOH) official and public health champion, who was one of the panelists during a recent forum held at the Kamuning Bakery Café in Quezon City in celebration of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2023. This is a global initiative that seeks to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use and to advocate for a smoke-free future, and have a healthier, happier Philippines, and whose theme this year is “We Need Food, Not Tobacco.”

A shift in the fight against tobacco

DR. Herbosa, who said his own father was a victim of the bad effects of smoking, also said there is a need to re-examine the approach in combating tobacco, which already entered another form for consumption, using a specific device that is now called “vaping,” or more popularly called as “E-cigarettes” or “e-cigs.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the use of e-cigarettes remain unsafe for kids, teens and young adults since most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which the CDC said is highly addictive and may harm adolescent brain development, and perhaps other harmful substances.

With the introduction of vaping, Dr. Herbosa said this shifted the fight against the dreaded tobacco but added that “we continue to have a vision wherein the government can implement more measures on tobacco control to protect public health, strengthen tobacco control laws, raise awareness on the dangers of smoking, and impose stricter regulations on tobacco advertising, packaging and sales.”

He urged the public to continue to bring the fight against tobacco consumption through these efforts, together with the observation of World No Tobacco Day 2023. “We have to double our efforts in this fight so that the next generation will live in a smoke-free environment. It is crucial that we prioritize their health and wellbeing.”

He also called on the smokers, expressing that quitting is not an easy task but it is a journey worth embarking on. A former smoker himself who was able to quit, Herbosa emphasized that they can also kick the habit. He said that there are several stop smoking or smoking cessation clinics that the government and the private sector helped put up in order for smokers to succeed in quitting smoking. Every step has been taken to ensure a smoke-free life in the future, Dr. Herbosa said, and he also believes in the value and the power of educating the youth about the bad effects of smoking on their health.

“Knowledge is our most potent weapon in this battle against tobacco addiction, and we thank our partners from government, civil society and other organizations in helping bring out the message of a smoke-free society.”

Protecting the youth

FOR Dr. Dexter Galban, Assistant Secretary for Youth Affairs and Special Concerns at the Department of Education (DepEd), the first-ever medical doctor appointed as assistant secretary at the agency and is also a registered nurse, he emphasized that the DepEd’s primary role is to defend and protect the future of the country’s learners, the future of the nation, and that includes defending them against the scourge of smoking and vaping, he said.

“The primary targets of the tobacco industry and those that promote vaping are the young learners because they are seen as replacement smokers or vapers because those who have been affected physically are now suffering the consequences, and that’s why they need more young people to get into the habit,” Dr. Galban explained.

And this is where the DepEd comes in, Dr. Galban said. He pointed out that the agency has already released a Department Order creating various tobacco control measures and guidelines, and an expanded order will now include vaping. He said that tobacco and vaping, at the end of the day, are forms of substance dependence, and these are dangerous to the youth because this may lead the youth to engage in drinking alcohol or worse, drugs.

He likewise reiterated that the DepEd will continue to exert efforts, revise its policies, and work with its partners to ensure that it will defend the future of the country’s learners, and to keep them resilient. “Resilience is key to make the country’s young learners critically minded so that they will not become victims of the strategic marketing efforts of the tobacco industry and those who champion vaping.”


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