08 January 2008

Teenage Smoking in the Philippines

I lit my first cigarette when I was 10 years old. Why? Out of curiosity. I always wondered why so many grown-ups smoke. It was as if smoking a cigarette was the ticket one needed to be called an adult. "It must be cool," I thought then as I puffed my first puff. I coughed. And coughed and coughed. Still, I tried to smoke some more. The cough ceased and I was blowing smoke. As I finished, I noticed a horrible sour taste left in my mouth. It smelled terrible. "So, this was smoking? What's so cool about it?" I wondered. That was the first and last time I smoked.

While quitting smoking remains one of the best prevention methods to avoid dying prematurely and anti-smoking advocates have not been remiss in their campaigns, and yet, smoking continues. For this post, I'd like to focus on teenage smokers and explore why they try to smoke and continue to smoke. Here are some facts:

  1. 4 out 10 students aged 13-15 years old smoke cigarettes. [CDC-MMWR, 2005]

  2. Almost one fifth of young Filipinos begin smoking before age 10. [Miguel-Baquilod, M., NEC, 2001]

  3. 70 percent of boys begin smoking by age 20. Among Filipino girls, residence in cosmopolitan Metro Manila is associated with high probability of smoking, and those who were raised with both parents present were less likely to smoke than those who grew up with a single parent. Also, for both genders, those who have close relationships with parents were less likely to smoke [Teen Tobacco Epidemic in Asia, 2004]

  4. Among factors influencing smoking, the following are significant: (1) media advertising, (2) exposure to smoke in public places, and (3) one or more parents who smoke. [CDC-MMWR, 2005]

  5. This is the most ironic and puzzling part: nearly 90 percent (88.7% in 2003) of Filipino adolescents supports the ban on smoking in public places, and want to quit (88.2% in 2003). [CDC-MMWR, 2005]

  6. A very small percentage (7.2% in 2000 and 3.8% in 2003) admitted that they wanted their first cigarette thirty minutes after waking up in the morning. [CDC-MMWR, 2005]

  7. In 1983, the popularity of Marlboro among youth exceeded that in the adult population. Marlboro then held a 35–40 percent share in Metro Manila but "more than 50%" in high schools. [Mason, W., 1983]

  8. 62.8 percent of Filipino adolescents are not refused purchase when buying tobacco products in a store. [CDC-MMWR, 2005]

  9. More males had tried quitting than females. One woman wondered why she should ‘divorce’ her ‘favorite Hope’ (a brand of cigarette), her ‘constant companion’, while another refused to quit for fear of weight gain. [Health Promotion Int., 2003]

  10. In one investigation, it was found out that among female Filipino smokers, smoking is seen ‘as a substitute for expressing feelings’, particularly anger and unhappiness. [Kaufman, N. J. and Nichter, M., 2001]

  11. The Philippines is the 15th biggest consumer of cigarettes in the world, and the largest cigarette consumer among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). [PDI, 2002 and WHO, 2001]

  12. Loss in productivity and health care costs amount to billions of pesos, which can be put into better use, should smoking be prevented or eliminated among Filipinos.

My proposed solutions:
  1. Enforce Republic Act 9211 and publicize how offenders are penalized.

  2. Make anti-smoking warnings bigger, more colorful, and more visible. If possible, place it in billboards and suggest that government sponsor advertisements of similar nature in television, radio, and print media. On the other hand, ban cigarette advertisements! Also, ask advertising agencies to modify marketing strategies and refrain from focusing on the youth sector.

  3. Make anti-smoking warnings appear on ALL sides of the cigarette pack: front, back, top, bottom, and all side panels. This must be done indefinitely and not on a limited time basis only.

  4. Refuse cigarette purchase among adolescents and penalize those stores who commit this offense.

  5. Make cigarettes very expensive. Consider this irony: the price of Marlboro in the Philippines is the second lowest among all ASEAN nations, while the prices of basic medicines are among the highest in Asia. What do you call that? It is cheaper to get sick and more expensive to get healed?

  6. How can you make cigarettes very expensive? By increasing tobacco or cigarette taxes. Legislators and the government should have a direct hand in this. The most price-responsive are the lower-income groups and the youth. By making cigarettes expensive, we can discourage them from smoking.

  7. Emphasize and make anti-smoking a part of the school curriculum from elementary to collegiate level.

  8. Sponsor student field trips to hospital wards where patients with smoking-related illnesses are confined to highlight the results of long-term smoking.

  9. Ban children and young people from openly selling cigarettes in the streets.

  10. Give incentives like discount coupons to smoke-free households. Smoking drains nearly 20 percent of the household income of smokers' families.

There is nothing cool or glamorous about getting sick or dying young or making others sick because of second-hand smoke. Getting bad breath or yellow teeth from smoking won't make anyone popular. The ultimate goal is to make the youth sector realize this, and not make them develop such a harmful habit.

11 reactions:

Anonymous said...

my first smoke was marlboro, too. i was in grade school. whenever i had the opportunity i.e. parents not around, i smoke. never mind the head rush. my cousins smoked, my papa smoked and a whole lot of relatives were hooked in habit.
i kicked the habit when i got pregnant. i quit cold turkey.

Svelte Rogue said...

yes! ban the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors. but heller, as if sari sari stores will bother to ask for ID; they'll try to rake in every pittance penny they can! and yes! they should impose higher taxes on cigs. here in belgium, a pack costs nearly 5€. that's something like 300 bucks in manila. it's a luxury here. and it should be treated as such, only available to the foolish who want to overspend. :P

Svelte Rogue said...

i started smoking when i was in jvp and i was terribly lonely. i ended up talking to my cig. but i have adult asthma and i just can't abide the stuff.

i'm happy to be part of an aikido club here in belgium where the members abhor smoking. it makes it fun and easy to go out with them. :)

Svelte Rogue said...

wow mari, galing. quitting cold turkey is hard, i've heard. i can't even do it in my relationships. :D

Aice Nice Concepts said...

I have never tried smoking myself not a single stick was near my lips, am also one of the population who are against smoking...

they really should make it expensive to let the person feel that they are just burning their money...

Look at our planet... milk, good medicines, fruits and anything healthy are so expensive...
smoke, pollution are every where... it takes lots of money to clean them...

why on earth do they make the unhealthy very cheap? that everybody can afford and tell the public to stop.

James Chandler said...

As a Doctor and Philippine citizen your voice has stronger merit than my voice as an American citizen who has lived in your country for the last five years.

I firmly believe that the most important thing that can be done is to implement a nationwide law that prohibits the selling of cigarettes in quantity that are less than 20 each. It would also help to increase the cost of the sin tax on cigarettes.

I firmly believe that as long as a child can buy a single stick cigarette that you have made it affordable for that child to buy and quickly become addicted to cigarette smoking.

Like you I tried once when I was very young. I remember how my body reacted. My next question was how I was going to be able to pay for the cigarettes? Because the smallest quantity pack was 20 the cost for one pack was already out of my reach. But anytime you can by a single stick for a couple peso you make it extremely easy for any child to start. And once that child starts they will quickly find themselves addicted to the nicotine inside it.

I'm 52 years old and am extremely allergic to secondary smoke. I hate it when I'm in a restaurant and a smoker who just stopped eating starts smoking. I find it interesting that they do not smoke while they eat. I believe it is because it bothers them. However they never care about how it affects the other people around them who are eating, especially those who may be allergic to secondary smoke.

I have found cigarettes sold as sticks, plastic packs of five each, commercial packs of ten each, and then the normal commercial pack of 20 each.

I'm sorry I got so winded, however I think you may be in a position to do something about it. As long as cigarettes can be bought in such small quantities it will always be cheap for children and a life long addiction starts with a couple pesos all the children in this country are at risk.

Dr. Emer said...

I agree with your idea and proposal, Mr. Chandler.

Unfortunately, in this country, business objectives far outweigh healthy causes like quitting smoking. While an anti-smoking law exists, it really has no teeth and is good only on paper. You can still see many people (adults and kids alike) smoking in public. Even lawmakers and policemen --- both tasked to enforce the said law --- are smokers.

Anonymous said...

ACCEPT this fact," No matter how hard the government tries to prevent or to stop smoking in the country, yet nothing will happen because there are people who sells it" If smoking will be banned like alcohol in Arab nations, that will be the time smoking will be close to extinction. But that is impossible, even the presidents, senators , lawmakers etc. smoke! SO the BEST way fir this problem... Scientists or manufacturers should develop a cigarette that doesn't contain any harmful chemicals but contains vitamins and minerals. This is not a silly thing. Try to imagine its just like the quote " If you can't beat them, Join them" the target consumers will be the smokers. I believe this is not far from possibility. Humans had set their feet on the moon, so why they cant do this?

haifa said...

i started smoking 2 years ago when i was 16. i started in marlboro menthol then i swithced to marlboro lights since the former doesnt satisfy me anymore. i dont know why suddenly i became addicted to it but it just really feels good when smoke comes out from my mouth. i get cranky if i dont smoke even just a stick per day. my boyfreind is a chain smoker and i belive that its one of the reasons why i crave for of this stuff. im not legally allowed to smoke in our home so getting the chance to smoke if they are not around is really rewarding for me. i feel like a burglar waiting for a chance to enter an open home. lol.

Rufino said...

i think what your suggestions are good but i think the government will not follow that since cigarette companies here in the Philippines pay a very high tax that can be used for corruption or they are bribed by the companies so that they wont enforce laws strictly.

I know that u know where our country is now. Drowned in the rivers of corruption.If the people and government will not change there ways, your suggestions will never be implemented.

by the way tnx for your infos, made a great help on my research paper ^^

Anonymous said...

HI How can i get in touch with u? I'll be doing an advocacy run for smokers. Im a smoker and i wanna quit. Worked for 7 years in an in house agency of a leading cigarette brand as project coordinator doing brand activations and trade marketing campaigns for them. But now im working as an event organizer and i wanna do this advocacy campaign to kick the habbit of smoking..

you can reach me at rommel.bobiles@yahoo.com