By Atty. Jacky T. Sarita, Dr. Donna Lorenzana Tubera-Panes, and Roderick Bartolome
According to the World Health Organization, seven million people die each year because of tobacco related diseases. Of these deaths, six million are the result of direct tobacco use while the rest to secondhand smoke.[i]
But what is most alarming at present is the rapidly increasing tobacco use by the youth worldwide with approximately 38 million smokers in the age group of 13-15 years old and exposure to second hand smoke at 48.9%.”[ii]In some countries, tobacco use is more common among youth than adults.[iii]
In the Philippines, smoking prevalence of young people from ages 13-15 years old increased from 13% in 2011 to 16% in 2015.[iv] A WHO document even reported that in the Philippines “as early as 9 years old, children start to smoke.”[v]
Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Center for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health noted that in the US, which has also a growing smoking prevalence among their youth, “nine out of ten smokers tried their first cigarette by age 18.” He added that “we must do more to prevent our youth from using tobacco products, or we will see millions of them suffer and die prematurely as adults.”[vi]
This warning from US CDC is very applicable to the Philippines which is a predominantly a young population, with a median age of 24 years old.[vii] If smoking prevalence will continue to rise among the youth, this would mean more tobacco related diseases in the future which will entail social, economic and healthcare cost. Tobacco related deaths will not only rise but victims will be dying at a younger age.
On its part, the Philippine Government, through the Departments of Health and Education and the local government units, have intensified their information drive to warn the youth on the harms of smoking. Even the President, in his recent State-of-the-Nation-Address, has shared his personal experience on the harms brought about by smoking. In 2017, the President issued Executive Order No. 26 to reiterate the need to minimize access of the youth to tobacco products.[viii]
However, no matter how loud advocates scream that “CIGARETTE SMOKING KILLS!” smokers, especially the young ones, do not care. Hya, a 25-year old smoker, who refuses to hear what she needs to hear about the harms of smoking believes that cigarettes “relieve” her of her daily stresses in life.
These misconceptions have long been debunked by scientists. Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director for the British Heart Foundation, told Huffington Post that “(T)he perception of a cigarette relieving stress is a misinterpretation of what’s actually happening — what you’re really experiencing when you light up a cigarette is the early signs of withdrawal.”
He added “those symptoms of withdrawal are very similar to stress … The cigarette will relieve those symptoms, and you think that it’s making you feel better, but all it’s doing is abolishing the early signs of nicotine withdrawal. Then of course this cycle goes on cigarette after cigarette.”
Smoking by the youth and young adults can cause serious and potentially deadly health issues. Young people who smoke are in danger of exposure to nicotine which can have lasting effects on adolescent brain development. Cigarette smoking also causes shortness of breath and decrease stamina, both of which can affect athletic performance and other physically active pursuits.[ix]
If science has time and again established the incontrovertible fact that cigarettes do not have any beneficial effect and are instead lethal, how does the industry continue to successfully market, sell and profit from this deadly product? Fritz Gahagan, Marketing Consultant, had this to say “The problem is how do you sell death? How do you sell a poison that kills 350,000 people per year, 1,000 people a day? You do it with the great open spaces … the mountains, the open places, the lakes coming up to the shore. They do it with healthy young people. They do it with athletes. How could a whiff of a cigarette be of any harm in a situation like that? It couldn’t be – there’s too much fresh air, too much health – too much absolute exuding of youth and vitality – that’s the way they do it.”[x]
A third of the youth who experiment with cigarettes happen as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.[xi] The more exposed to tobacco advertising young people are, the more likely they are to smoke.[xii] Using glamour, energy, sex appeal, and adventure only makes it more deceptively appealing to the youth.[xiii]
This is why the World Health Organization recommends a comprehensive ban on tobacco product advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. This is part of a comprehensive approach called 6 MPOWER Strategy. It is a practical and cost effective way to scale up the implementation of WHO FCTC designed to reduce tobacco related diseases and death. The MPOWER Strategy includes the following: (1) Monitor tobacco used and prevention policies; (2) Protect people from tobacco use; (3) Offer help to quit tobacco use; (4) Warn about the dangers of tobacco; (5) Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and; (6) Raise taxes on tobacco.[xiv]
This strategy is based on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was crafted in 2003. Today, the WHO FCTC has 181 parties supporting it and more than 90% of the world’s population are covered by it. The Philippines is a signatory of this treaty and has ratified this into law in 2005.
Currently, however, many local ordinances still do not abide by the requirement to ban all forms of advertisement, sponsorship and promotion. Drawing from Republic Act No. 9211, some ordinances still allow point-of-sale advertisement. Convenience store display products and their advertisements side by side items like gums, candies and chocolates thereby attracting attention from young consumers.
Advertisements are still posted on convenience stores and some would even have big banners depicting the tobacco manufacturer’s brand or logo on the roofs of sari-sari stores. Some of these stores are located near schools, play areas and other facilities frequented by the youth.
There are, however, local government units that have gained ground on tobacco control regulation. The cities of Davao, Balanga and Iloilo have rigorously implemented a ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. In 2017, the City Government of Baguio amended its 10 year old ordinance to update its tobacco control policies one of which is on prohibiting advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products in certain places and imposing penalties for violations.[xv] A year after its issuance, enforcement yielded an increase in apprehension of violators which resulted in the collection of fines amounting to over a million pesos. The fines collected were dedicated to implement other tobacco control programs of the City.[xvi]
While this progress is notable, amending RA 9211 to ban advertisement even in point-of-sale is still necessary to accelerate the expansion of the adoption of the comprehensive ban at the sub-national level.
The government must also look into regulating advertisement in the social media taking into consideration the growing influence of this platform to Filipino youth. Last May 2019, Philip Morris International, Inc. suspended a global social media marketing campaign when Reuters inquired into the use of young online personalities to market its new “heated tobacco” device.[xvii] Globally, the Philippines is number one in most time spent in a day on social media and young Filipinos ages 20-29 years old have been ranked to users of Facebook.[xviii] Given this situation, tobacco industry might, if they are not already doing it, utilize the same strategy in the Philippines , thus, exposing the youth to tobacco advertisements.
The Philippines has reformed tobacco tax to make cigarettes less affordable to the youth. It has expanded smoke free environment through national administrative orders and local ordinances to protect people from secondhand smoke. And, required graphic health warnings to inform smokers of the ill effects of smoking. These policy reforms will best promote public health if complemented by a strategy that will contribute in preventing youth from being initiated in this bad habit. A comprehensive ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship is a critical component in the overall strategy of the government to curb smoking prevalence and thus reduce exposure of the youth to this deadly product. With no new youth smokers there will be no ‘replacement smokers’.
The role of legislators is crucial to achieve total ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. They must amend the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 to extend banning tobacco advertisement even on point-of-sale. Some countries have even required that tobacco products should not be displayed at all and should only be made available when a customer asks for it.[xix]
[iii] Nigeria, Qatar, Senegal and Ethiopia
[x] “Secrets of Safer Cigarettes”, World In Action, Granada Television, 4 July 1988, United Kingdom, Television
[xi] World Health Organization, WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, The MPOWER Package (2013), available at: http://www.who.int/tobacco/global_ report/2013/en/ Last accessed on 18 May 2015
[xii] World Health Organization, The Tobacco Industry Catches You Young: Break the Tobacco Marketing Net, available at http://www.who.int/tobacco/resources/ publications/wntd/2008/fyer_english.pdf?ua=1. Last accessed on 18 May 2015.
[xix] Tobacco display bans are in place in several countries: Canada, Croatia, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Thailand, Finland, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
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