By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
It’s called a smoke, a puff, a hit, a drag, or in Tagalog slang, yosi. Smoking is among the leading causes of mortality, killing seven million individuals every year, six million from direct use, and almost 900,000 people from exposure to second-hand smoke. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about half of smokers are met with death. In the past few decades, a lot of countries have been aggressive in their campaigns and programs against smoking, and for most of them, it seems to be working. The Global Burden of Diseases reports that there has been a decline in tobacco use through the years, from one in three men, and one in 12 women who took a hit every day in 1990, to one in four men and one in 20 women who smoked day in and day out in 2015. That’s good news, globally. But in the Philippines, it is a different story.
Smoking is an everyday occurrence for a lot of Filipinos. Truth be told, various measures have been done to curb smoking in the past, from educating youngsters, launching advertising campaigns, and introducing government programs. Despite the fact that a lot of us have been informed with the health implications brought by tobacco use, from respiratory diseases to certain cancers, we are still among the world’s heaviest smokers. The Global Burden of Diseases reports that the Philippines, including Indonesia, Japan, Germany, and Brazil, comprise more than 60 percent of tobacco users globally. And through the years, Brazil has shown the biggest decline in smokers in the last 25 years (1990-2015), from 29 to 12 percent smokers among men, and from 19 percent to eight percent smokers among women. Sadly, the Philippines and Indonesia have not shown changes in the frequency of tobacco use. Since 1990, the Philippines has 35 percent smokers among men that has not changed for 25 years.
What are the health measures that our country needs and the government has to do to lessen and hopefully put an end to tobacco use altogether?
- Implementing a smoking ban
Smoke-free policies or laws that ban smoking in certain areas are beneficial such that it keeps the risk of second-hand smoke away from non-smokers while encouraging smokers to quit. In the Philippines, our current administration has already implemented a nationwide smoking ban in public places.
- Education or counseling
Most likely, heavy smokers need help to quit and, initially, they cannot do it on their own. The government must provide more clinics that offer help and counseling to tobacco users and encourage businesses and schools to constantly conduct seminars about the risks of tobacco use and second-hand smoke. Just this year, the Philippines opened Quit Line, a daily text messaging program one can register in that offers tips on how to quit. It also offers a telephone number one can dial at any time should he or she decide to let go of smoking. An operator from the Lung Center will then advise the quitter on ways how to stop it.
- Advertising bans
The WHO reports that preventing tobacco companies from advertising their products have decreased tobacco use of at least seven percent. Furthermore, 29 countries are currently implementing the ad ban. Currently, the Philippine government’s smoking ban prohibits any advertisement or promotion of tobacco within 100 meters of any establishment, school, or child-populated area.
- Photo warnings on tobacco use
The WHO says that photos warnings are effective for smokers to avoid smoking around those who do not smoke, especially children. In the Philippines, graphic images of the effects of tobacco use are currently being implemented, with every pack showing a printed photo of the health implications of smoking.
- Imposing taxes on tobacco
This is the most cost-effective way to discourage people from smoking, according to WHO. Only a few countries, however, have this policy, and the revenues from tobacco are astronomically higher than expenses on cessation. The country currently imposes the Sin Tax Law, an increase in taxes of alcohol and cigarettes that aims to curb consumption.
While smoking is a major health threat around the world, there is hope among nations that continuously and aggressively push to finally put an end to tobacco use. While our current government provides programs and regulations on smoking, it will be a while before we can say that these have been effective. But change always starts at home. If we make sure that each and every one in our own households are educated about the dangers of smoking, then we are one step closer to achieving a smoke-free home. And more smoke-free homes make smoke-free communities, and the domino effect goes on. If you are currently a smoker, remember that there is zero benefit from smoking, and it is indeed harder to quit than to prevent it. If you want to quit smoking but do not know how and when to start, you may go online, visit your doctor that can refer you to a specialist, or check out the government programs that can help with smoking cessation. No matter how you quit, the desire to change or drop the habit starts with you.