Written by Jonathan L. Mayuga
HEALTH advocates have intensified the campaign against cigarette smoking in the Philippines and are now focusing more on the negative health impacts of cigarette smoking to Filipinos.
Health Justice is supporting the passage of a new bill that will make graphic health warnings (GHWs) on cigarettes mandatory to discourage Filipinos from patronizing the “unhealthy” product.
The anti-cigarette smoking campaign strategy to increase the prices of cigarette to make it unaffordable with the passage of the “sin” tax law hardly made a dent on the incidence of cigarette smoking among Filipinos.
The group cited a finding that even smokers who seem “healthy” have damaged airway cells, with characteristics similar to cells found in aggressive lung cancer.
The study conducted by Weill Cornell Medical College has proven that even smokers who have gone through a battery of medical tests that came back normal had dangerous changes in their DNA, which means that smokers who have received a clean bill of health from their doctors still have cause to worry, since this type of cell-damage is not easily detected by most medical examinations.
The study compared cells lining the airways of healthy non-smokers against those from smokers with no detectable lung disease. All had normal X-rays and chest examination results.
The smokers’ cells showed early signs of damage and cellular malfunction. It was also found that in the cells lining the airways of the smoker’s lungs, human embryonic stem-cell genes had been turned on. This type of gene is also “on” in the most aggressive, hard-to-treat lung cancers.
“When you smoke a cigarette, some of the genetic programming of your lung cells are lost,” said the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
He explained that healthy cells are very tightly controlled. Normal cells have rules and only do certain things.
“In cancer, that control is lost. Your cells take on the appearance of a more primitive cell. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop cancer, but that the soil is fertile to develop cancer,” he added.
The study found that smokers’ cells were already in the early stages of losing this control. It is this loss of control, which allows cancer cells to multiply and migrate to other organs.
According to Atty. Diana Trivino, project manager at HealthJustice, many smokers don’t quit smoking until they get sick.
“This new evidence proves how dangerous smoking is, and how it affects even those who think they are healthy or whose medical test results are normal despite their smoking. Graphic health warnings have been proven to be one of the most effective means to make smokers quit and to prevent non-smokers from starting. If GHWs were on our cigarette packs now, perhaps many more would be convinced to give up on this lethal product or to never start at all.”
Cancer survivors said many smokers disregard the vague text warnings that are on our cigarette packs today.
Emer Rojas, laryngeal cancer survivor and President of the New Vois Association of the Philippines said he only knew how deadly smoking is after he got cancer.
“Placing pictures of tobacco victims on packs will be more effective in convincing smokers that no one is spared from the lethal effects of smoking,” he said.
The group expressed support behind the filing of of a bill that will require cigarette manufacturers to place picture-based health warnings on cigarette packs.
The Picture-Based Health Warning law is a new bill that seeks to mandate the placing of GHWs on at least 80 percent of the principal display areas of tobacco packages, both for the front and back panels.
The decision to require GHWs of this size adheres to international best practices set by Australia with GHWs encompassing 82.5 percent of the pack and by Uruguay with 80 percent. New Zealand and Ireland are set to follow Australia’s example.
A salient portion of the bill is the ban of misleading descriptors such as “light,” “ultra-light,” “mild,” “extra” and “ultra.”
Health advocates believe that the descriptive words such as these deceive smokers into thinking that cigarettes labeled as such expose them to lower risks, and that there are “safer” cigarettes.
A US court has already ruled that tobacco companies “falsely marketed and promoted low tar/light cigarettes as less harmful than full-flavor cigarettes in order to keep people smoking and sustain corporate revenues.”
In filing the bill, Ang Nars Party-list Rep. Leah Paquiz said, “Health is the responsibility of each and everyone of us. Our action and inaction affects other people. It is but proper that we make every decision count to promote health and improve the health of the nation.”
Currently, the Philippines ranks among the top 20 smoking nations in the world, and has the distinction of being one of Southeast Asia’s top tobacco-consuming countries, second only to Indonesia, with every Filipino smoker smoking an estimated 1,073 cigarettes per year, says HealthJustice.
The large number of Filipino smokers proves how ineffective the text-only warnings currently printed on Philippine cigarette packs are in convincing smokers to quit the deadly addiction.
“Smoking kills one out of every two smokers. It kills 240 Filipinos every day through a tobacco-related illness,” Trivino said.
“Graphic health warnings are life-saving measures that should have been implemented long ago, had it not been for the interference of tobacco companies, which put profit before public health. We hope more of our lawmakers act on their duty to uphold our public health. Lives are what we sacrifice for every year we fail to pass this bill,” she said.