Healthbeat 2001 No. 6.jpgHealthbeat 2001 No. 6.jpg

Three surveys on the current trend of tobacco smoking in the country were reported last summer.

The 1999 DOH study said that one out of three Filipinos smoke, while one out of three doctors smoke in front of their patients. The 2000 Philippine Global Youth Tobacco Survey revealed that children are not spared from smoking even at home as 59% of parents smoke. (PD Inquirer, May 26)

The third study commissioned by the National Youth Council yielded, among its results, that four million Filipino youth are hooked on smoking. (Daily Tribune, May 29)

The biggest “tobacco issue” of the year did not hit the news until July when president Macapagal-Arroyo gave the green light to Philip Morris to establish its main hub in Asia in the country.

The decision of the president sparked negative opinions from the public and elicited sympathy for the health secretary.

Running priest Fr. Robert Reyes accused the President of selling out public health welfare in exchange for millions of dollars in foreign investment. (PD Inquirer, July 14)

At least 56 anti-smoking groups vowed to intensify their campaign by asking the president to cancel the Philip Morris project because its operation will create more smokers among Filipinos and increase the incidence of deaths due to smoking-related diseases. (Manila Bulletin, July 23)

Despite criticisms, however, President Macapagal-Arroyo and former leader Fidel Ramos supported the Youth Smoking Prevention (YSP) program of Philip Morris during the groundbreaking rites in Batangas. The President even urged the company to closely coordinate with the DOH in expanding the coverage of YSP so that national health officials would not be having second thoughts the next time they would be invited to grace any event of the company. Philip Morris disclosed that they have communicated with the WHO their willingness to work with them on a comprehensive global treaty and with individual governments on a national legislation regulating the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of cigarettes. Its executives also reportedly sought legislation of the minimum age on smoking to keep cigarettes from minors. (Philippine Star, July 27)

Meanwhile, anti-tobacco groups warned that the Philip Morris production plant in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, which is expected to produce 30 billion cigarette sticks annually, would lower the cost of cigarettes in the country, thus making it more accessible to Filipinos, most notably to children. The Framework Convention Alliance Philippines on Tobacco Control of the WHO said that the President’s presence during the groundbreaking ceremonies in Batangas in July sent a very strong signal that the Executive Branch is not keen on regulating the product. (Manila Bulletin, Aug. 3)

Another tobacco study found its way to the press in August. The survey conducted by the National Poisons Control and Information Service of UP-PGH among 640 3rd – 6th graders of two public schools in Quezon City disclosed that kids start smoking at the age of 11. Four percent (4%) of the respondents admitted to having smoked cigarettes. Early use was associated with curiosity, peer pressure. (PD Inquirer, Aug. 4)

In September, the DOH asked the House Committee on Health to pass a law that would impose a ban on the promotion of tobacco products through advertising, citing the increasing number of minors now taking up the habit. If enacted in to law, the promotions and advertisements of the products in any mass medium will be regulated. (Manila Times, Sept. 6)

The most recent tobacco issues published on newspaper were anchored on a happy note. The High Court ordered tobacco companies to abide by the DOH administrative order issued in 1993which prescribes more health warnings on all cigarette packs. The SC ordered that the warning statement “Warning: Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous To Your Health” be imprinted at the front, back and side of the cigarette packs. (Philippine Star, Sept. 20)