Filipino girls among biggest smokers in the world —WHO

By Frankie Llaguno, Newsbreak

Posted at May 28 2010 05:34 PM | Updated as of May 29 2010 01:36 AM

Number of teenage smokers in RP higher than global average

MANILA, Philippines—On May 31 each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce consumption.

Tobacco use is the second cause of death globally (after hypertension) and is currently responsible for killing 1 in 10 adults worldwide. It is an epidemic, the WHO says, but a preventable one.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2010 is “Gender and Tobacco,” with an emphasis on marketing to women.  

WHO will use the day to draw particular attention to the harmful effects of tobacco marketing and smoking on women and girls.

The main marketing message by the tobacco companies is that women and girls who smoke relate better socially,  are more tasteful, and are more attractive to men.

Women comprise about 20% of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers. However, the epidemic of tobacco use among women is increasing in some countries, including the Philippines.

Women are a major target of opportunity for the tobacco industry, which need to recruit new users since old users are dying prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.

Targeting adolescent girls

Especially troubling is the rising prevalence of tobacco use among girls. A new WHO report, “Women and Health: Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda,” points to evidence that tobacco advertising increasingly targets girls.

Data from 151 countries show that 7% of adolescent girls smoke cigarettes as opposed to 12% of adolescent boys.  In some countries, almost as many girls smoke as boys.

The Philippine data is higher than the global average. According to the latest WHO report, the smoking percentage of Filipinos in the age group 13-15 years is 22.7% with more boys smoking than girls who are, nevertheless, catching up.

It also represents a 6.8% increase from the previous WHO report.

Despite the passage of the Tobacco Control Act of 2003, more young Filipinos are smoking today.

Since 2007, separate bills have been pending with lawmakers to introduce the printing of graphic health warnings instead of text in cigarette packages.

This is in keeping with a global survey of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance that showed young people were more responsive to graphic warnings compared to text warnings.

Cabral ignores slow Congress

However,  Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral could no longer wait for the long-delayed action by Congress.

Last May 24, the Philippines joined countries that use picture-based warnings printed on the packages of tobacco products.

A Department of Health (DOH) administrative order mandated measures that would prohibit the promotion of tobacco use through packaging and labeling.

The administrative order will become effective 15 days from the publication of the order.

It may be challenged in court by the tobacco companies, led by the merged entity of Fortune Tobacco and Philip Morris Philippines Inc. that ontrol 92 % of Philippine cigarette trade. They insist that Congress must first pass the legislation before the DOH can impose its administrative order.

However, the DOH has stated that the Philippines is a signatory to an international agreement with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that mandates signatories to come up with strategies to eliminate the ill-effects of tobacco use.

Among the strategies is the use of graphic warnings on tobacco products.

This agreement was ratified by the Senate in 2005.

Shortly after signing the administrative order, Secretary Cabral joined other concerned citizens in urging the country’s most likely next president, Benigno  Aquino III, to be a role model for young Filipinos by giving up smoking.

However, in an interview with Senate reporters, Aquino said that he is not ready to quit just now. (Newsbreak)


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