By: Roderick Evans Bartolome and Mary Ann Fernandez-Mendoza
In the Philippines, women tend to overlook their own health, pushing aside personal health concerns because many of them are too busy caring for other people. Many Filipino women are in charge of the health of at least one parent, a spouse and children.
Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are a vital concern for women, not just in the Philippines but all over the world. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs have been the leading causes of death among women globally for at least the past three decades and are now responsible for two in every three deaths among women each year. This burden is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades, especially in low and middle income countries such as the Philippines where many are exposed to NCD risk factors due to tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity.
Results of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Country Report of 2015 reveal that 22.7 percent of adults or 15.9 million currently smoke, of which, 40.3 percent are men while 5.1 percent are women. There were 13.1 million daily smokers in the Philippines, where 33.9% are men while 3.6% are women. Although smoking prevalence is persistently higher among men, cigarette manufactures still promote smoking as a way of improving women’s social and political status, possibly causing more young women to initiate smoking.
In fact, studies show that the tobacco industry has aimed both its products and its advertising to women. Among the messaging strategies employed include smoking as a way to stay slim through association of slender female models with slender cigarettes. Also, smoking is advertised as being glamourous, sophisticated, fun, romantic, sexually attractive, healthy, sporty, sociable, relaxing, calming, emancipated or liberated, rebellious, and of course, aid to slimming.
Women who smoke are at an increased risk for infertility making it more difficult for women to become pregnant. However, health problems do not only affect the mother, but also the unborn child. Smoking is toxic for the unborn child. Health problems for both mothers and babies include pregnancy complications, premature birth, low-birth-weight infants, stillbirth, and infant death. Once pregnant, women who smoke are about twice as likely to experience complications such as placenta Previa, a condition where the placenta grows too close to the opening of the uterus.
Furthermore, after birth, smoking can still cause problems for the infant because nicotine, one of the most potent substances in cigarette, has been found in every part of the body, including breast milk. Babies born of smoking mothers have fewer white blood cells, poorer immune systems and suffer from higher incidences of infectious diseases.
Risks in developing cervical cancer, breast cancer, ulcers, and menstrual complications are higher for female smokers than non-smokers. Both men and women are also at risks of common smoking-induced diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, fertility problems, heart diseases and stroke and lung cancer.
According to the GLOBOCAN Project, as cited by the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, breast cancer is the leading cause of death for Filipino women in 2010, with 4,000 deaths. Also, 2,197 and 1,984 women were lost to lung and cervical cancers respectively – both are also among the effects of smoking to women.
As the Philippines marks National Women’s Month, we recognize that girls and women are powerful and influential partners in the fight against NCDs and the adoption of healthy lifestyles. Research has shown that when mothers are able to control their financial resources they allocate more to nutrition, health, and education. Educating girls in schools could prevent future NCDs through teaching about healthy nutrition and the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.
National Tax Research Center (2016). Gender, Tobacco and Taxation: Cigarette Smoking Usage Behavior of Men and Women in the Philippines. NTRC Tax Research Journal. Volume XXVIII. Pp 31-34. Retrieved from http://www.ntrc.gov.ph/images/journal/2016/j20160102b.pdf.
World Health Organization. (n. d.) WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs. Retrieved fromhttps://www.who.int/global-coordination-mechanism/ncd-themes/NCD-and-women/en/.
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