As timeless as ever, quoting lines from most commercial packaging of cigarettes, “Government warning: cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health”.
This initiative was done to remind the consuming pubic of the dangers of tobacco and nicotine in the body. Recently, a more aggressive mean was created to address the needs of the illiterates and this was by printing horrific pictures of patients whose lives are in the edge due to smoking complications and having it cover the back portion of the cigarette pack.
But despite these moves, smoking and tobacco use still persist. In fact, data from World Health Organization (WHO) informs that tobacco kills at least 6 million people globally each year even if international governments ban advertising and promotion of tobacco within their territories.
In the Philippines, a survey done in 2009 by the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Statistics Authority (the then NSO), WHO, and US Center for Disease and Control (CDC) reveal that 28.3 percent of the population are smokers. This figure means that 28 out of 100 Filipinos are smoking. This likewise represents 17.3 million out of the total population in 2009.
History and Economics
Why most Filipinos are smokers is a question that can be traced to history. Dating back to the late 16th Century, tobacco was introduced to the Native Filipinos by the Spanish Colonizers, particularly by the Augustinian Orders (a Catholic Religious Oder of Priests), when this religious group brought with them seeds of tobacco for cultivation and eventually trade.
Furthermore, during the Spanish era, tobacco monopoly was established in the Philippines to increase revenue of the Spanish government. As a matter of fact, tobacco and cigarettes from the Philippines had become the major commodity of the Galleon Trade.
As a result, the Philippines has become the largest tobacco-producing country in Asia that benefited the Spanish government to much extent earning as much as $3,000,000 of profits at that time.
Therefore, smoking has been deeply embedded in the culture of Filipinos.
Initially, the Philippine Government introduced smoking ban in public places such as schools, recreations facilities, stairwells, hospitals, clinics, public utility transports and public conveyances. With the designation of smoking areas, smokers are directed to keep their cigarette sticks unlit until in the said appropriate places. But we still see some violators who do not even receive the slightest disciplinary sanctions.
According to the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act (RA) 9211 (Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003), it is unlawful for any minor (below 18 years old) to sell, buy, use or smoke tobacco products. Notwithstanding, it likewise takes into account the responsibility of the adult vendor of selling or offering such products to the minors.
We still see juvenile smokers left and right. Worse, they are not the type who are secretive and are hiding from the prying eyes of the public. Instead, these are the adolescents we see along the streets, the teen neighbours next door or a young relative of ours.
In 2012, RA 10351 (Sin Tax reform Act) was enacted to discourage the public from consuming alcohol and tobacco products by increasing the taxes of their purchase.
Such of its salient provisions include the cigarettes packed by hand shall cost P21 per pack by 2016 and P30 per pack by 2017.
Whether or not this initiative would be effective or not, one thing for sure is the public will just have to increase its budget to maintain the vices of smoking.
What the country also needs is iron fist regulatory mechanism in order to monitor its implementation. The presence of a system ( as in Sin Tax Law) is good. But have its regulatory mechanism intact in place is better.
What World Health Organization suggests
Since 1987, WHO has been observing World No Tobacco day every May 31. It encourages 24-hour abstinence from the use of Tobacco products globally.
For this year, the theme is “Getting Ready for Plain Packaging”.
Plain packaging refers to “measures to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style (plain packaging).
WHO believes that this reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products; prevent advertising and promotion; limit misleading packaging; and enhance health warnings.
These actions, for WHO, will reduce tobacco use and hence save lives.