by CATHERINE S. VALENTE Reporter
BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan: Tobacco use, which kills nearly six million people every year, is now considered a global epidemic and the situation is getting worse, a public health think tank said on Thursday.
In a forum organized by Health Justice Philippines, Dr. Mary Assunta, senior policy advisor of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said tobacco is the only product that kills half of its customers prematurely.
In the Philippines, 10 people die every hour because of smoking-related diseases. This translates to 240 deaths every day or 87,600 deaths every year.
Scientific research shows that no less than 12 different types of cancer are attributed to smoking, with lung cancer being the second most common cancer killer in the Philippines, next to breast cancer.
The prevalence of lung cancer cases in the country could be traced to easy access to cigarettes. The tingi (retail) system of selling cigarettes per stick, and the laxity of retailers in selling to minors are identified as contributory factors.
Cigarette prices in the Philippines are lower than those in other countries, Assunta said.
“Make no mistake about it, the tobacco industry will continue to work hard to get more smokers, targeting the developing countries and its young children and teens,” she warned.
Fortunately, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has four recommendations that would help developing countries in their fight against cigarette hazards.
These include raising awareness about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products and the tobacco industry’s attempts to interfere with tobacco control policies, establishing measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry, rejecting partnerships and non-binding or non-enforceable agreements with the tobacco industry and avoiding conflicts of interest for government officials and employees.
Assunta recommended that governments be stricter in implementing the FCTC because majority of smokers are poor.
Cigarettes must not be available to, or affordable for, the most vulnerable in society, she said.
The tobacco industry must also be required to disclose information on production, manufacture, market share, revenues, and expenditures on marketing, lobbying, philanthropy, and political contributions, Assunta added.
Earlier, SEATCA launched an index that measures how much the tobacco industry interferes in health laws that govern seven countries.
Based on the Tobacco Industry Interference Index that SEATCA prepared, the Philippines has the highest level of tobacco industry participation in policy development, followed by Indonesia; Cambodia and Malaysia; Thailand; and Laos and Brunei.
While the Philippines has a high level of tobacco industry interference, it is nevertheless a pioneer in its efforts to curb government interaction with the tobacco industry.
In 2010, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Department of Health issued Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 to prevent the interaction of the government and the tobacco industry. It is the first circular of its kind in Asia.
According to CSC Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo, the circular, which has the same force and effect as a law, states that public officials and employees may only interact with the tobacco industry for the latter’s effective regulation, supervision, or control.