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Filipino smokers now 17M

Cigarette smoking in the Philippines is a very big issue that really needs to be addressed. In 2009, a study made by the GATS or the Global Adult Tobacco Survey showed that almost 23% of adult Filipinos are active smokers. In other words, almost 14 million Filipinos consume an average of 10-11 cigarettes each day. This amounts to an average expenditure of about 600.00 pesos per person per month at the current cost of cigarettes which is at 2.00 pesos per stick.

But these are only the persons who smoke daily. In total, i.e. counting even those who smoke regularly but not daily, the number goes up to almost 17.5 million Filipinos who indulge in this vice. That is a staggering 28% of Filipino adults. The study also points out that almost half of the population of adult men smoke (48%), while only a tenth of adult women do (9%).

Most surprising though, is that these smokers continue their vice even though they, and the rest of the Philippine population know about all the ill effects that this vice brings.

This begs the question: why do they still smoke?

Well, I guess the answer is obvious. Almost everybody knows about the ill effects of smoking but very few have actually seen or experienced these unpleasant consequences. The smokers know that smoking can cause cancer, but it does not necessarily cause cancer. It will not surely cause cancer, it just can cause cancer. They are willing to take their chances, especially since the odds are not particularly stacked against them. Just think about it. Ask yourself: How many people do you know smoke? How many of them do you know died of lung cancer or even just contracted cancer? I’m pretty sure those who smoke and are still alive far outnumber those who smoke and died of lung cancer.

This is why all the warning labels, even those with very graphic photos, will not do much to curb smoking in the Philippines or any other country for that matter. The smoker will see the graphic, realize that it can happen, but will never think that it will happen to him. It can happen, but it will probably happen to someone else.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to increase the taxes on cigarettes? The Department of Health is pushing for a 400% increase in the taxes pegged on cigarettes. This would translate to pushing the prices up on cigarettes from the currently affordable P2.00 to a more prohibitive P7.00. This should be very effective in curbing cigarette smoking among the 15-20 year old smokers who make up almost 20% of the smoking population in the Philippines.

Price is very important. Even the tobacco companies themselves know this. In 2009, all the top brands (Fortune at 33% and Marlboro at 19%) came up with the idea to make their cigarettes available in 5 and 10 piece packs. This proved to be very effective as it was able to sustain the sales of both brands. The effectiveness of this strategy was credited to it being able to provide smokers a chance to get their favorite cigarettes without forcing them to come up with a big cash outlay. Thus, common sense would dictate that to discourage people from buying cigarettes, make it so that they would have to lay out a fairly large amount of cash to purchase them.

Another effective anti smoking measure would be to make purchasing cigarettes a little bit more difficult. In the study made by the GATS, almost all of the respondents said that they were able to purchase their cigarettes in nearby outlets. This means that it is very convenient to buy cigarettes. If it is easily available, then it can’t possibly be bad right?

However, if it takes a lot of effort just to get a stick of cigarette, then it might be bad, somehow. At the very least it would give them a very practical reason not to smoke, especially if they are just going to buy 1 or a few sticks.

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Cancer is preventable

Whenever I hear the word cancer oftentimes I feel some chills. Though I hear it and read about it many times it still sounds alien for some reasons. I know of some people who have died because of it. My former accountant and a very good friend of my sibling had a couple of chemo sessions but unfortunately was not able to survive.

I know of lung cancer, breast cancer, and then prostate, then that is it. I suppose I am also not that well-informed about cancer like most Filipinos. So I Google “cancer” and Wikipedia gave lots of basic and important information.

Cancer is 90-95% caused by environmental factors and 5-10% due to hereditary genetics. The first one has a staggering percentage so I decided to read further about it; and the second sounds too complicated. =)

These environmental factors include tobacco smoking (25-30%), poor diet that leads to obesity and other diseases (30-35%), infections (15-20%), radiation (10%), lack of regular exercise, pollution, and even stress.

Tobacco is one of the components of most manufactured cigarettes. So if you are smoking cigarettes you are smoking tobacco. We Filipinos love to eat. But I don’t know exactly which foods may cause cancer. I remember a tomato sauce brand claiming prevention of cancer if consumed regularly. Infections are due to bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms. Radiation is another complex topic. I need to make more research on these causes.

So if I don’t smoke, if I eat nutritious foods, and do regular physical activities then there should be less chance for me to get cancer? It should. But of course this is easier said than done especially the eating part. Because of the numerous gatherings and events Filipinos love to celebrate we become careless. But most importantly, it’s what we do every day. It is what we consume every day. So the best time to start preventing cancer is now. And the best way is to always educate yourself and your loved ones.

I shall write more about cancer on the next coming posts. Please feel free to share your thoughts.