MANILA -- The Department of Education (DepEd) is increasing efforts to discourage the youth from smoking and vaping.
DepEd Asec. Dr. Dexter Galban, who is also a physician, said the youth have become the marketing targets of tobacco companies as they need more young people to get into the habit through so-called "replacement smokers and vapers."
Galban said the agency has released an order prohibiting cigarettes and vapes inside and outside schools.
They are also strengthening mental health programs and critical thinking exercises to draw the youth away from vices and into more productive and healthy activities.
But he admitted it is a major challenge for education and health advocates to draw the youth away from these vices, due to the industry "co-opting" or "hijacking" the message that lies behind the ill effects of smoking.
"Naging matinik ang ating mga kalaban sa tobacco industry. They actively pursued new strategies so that we will be able to make vaping something that is cool. Something that is seen as a tobacco cessation tool at mas kagigiliwan ng mga bata. Kasi ngayon makakarinig ka na sa ating mga kabataan na, 'Ako hindi ako naninigarilyo pero nagva-vape ako.' 'Kadiri iyang mag-smoke, kadiri iyang maninigarilyo pero vaping okay lang. Cool eh'," Galban said in a forum Friday.
That's why DepEd also wants to fight back through the proper messaging.
"One of the major approaches that we have is strengthening the curriculum... So that lahat tayo, merong ambag pagdating sa kung ano nga bang mga mensahe ang pwede nating iambag pagdating dito sa ating health at saka sa mga kabataan," Galban explained
"Bukod doon, pinalalakas talaga natin iyong awareness nila tungkol sa dangers of any and all types of substance dependence. Hindi lang paninigarilyo - vaping, alcohol - because all of these are gateway drugs... Pinalalakas pa natin ang kampanya alongside issues on mental health as well as proper health and nutrition," he added.
Based on the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, among Filipino adolescents aged 13 to 15 years, 12.5 percent used various tobacco products, and 14.1 percent used electronic cigarettes.
The World No Tobacco Day is being observed every May 31.
Dr. Ted Herbosa, former undersecretary of the Health department and Chairman of UP-PGH's Dept. of Emergency Medicine, started smoking at an early age.
He said his father was a chain smoker.
"Exposed ako sa secondhand smoke. Noong Grade 7 ako, in one exclusive school for boys, nagkayayan manigarilyo sa likod ng swimming pool... Pagkatapos, maya-maya, nagsusukahan na lahat... Ako, hindi. Nag-enjoy ako. Kasi na-victimize na pala ako noong bata, ng secondhand smoke. I am already enjoying my first puff as a cigarette smoker," he recalled.
"Eventually, I trained in surgery medicine, na nahilig ako manigarilyo. Kasi iyong kasama ko, pag mga college kayo, nag-iinuman kayo. May frat din ako... When you're young, peer pressure will make you smoke even if you don't [want]... Mahirap iyong buhay ng doktor eh... After the difficult operation, naninigarilyo ka," he added.
Herbosa's father was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and died at the age of 62.
"Ako ang nagbantay sa tatay ko sa ospital hanggang sa namatay siya. Pagbalik ko sa hospital, kinuha ko iyong isang karton ko ng sigarilyo, binigay ko doon sa isang chain smoker na doktor," he said in jest.
"Pero nababalik-balik pa rin ako kasi nga nicotine is addicting... Pero noong nag-Usec ako sa Department of Health to push for Sin Tax [Law], iyon, natakot ako kasi baka iyong media, ma-picturean ako may hawak akong sigarilyo, so ewan ko, nawala (smoking)," he added.
The health advocate finally quit smoking for good when he was 55 years old, and now he is celebrating his 65th birthday.
"Na-outlive ko na iyong father ko na isang smoker. I hope to live 10 years longer than he did. Aabot ako ng 70 plus... I think I have to thank the fact na tumigil ako ng smoking," Herbosa said.
He hopes his story can inspire both youth and adults to also quit smoking, and health advocates to continue their "marathon" until the country achieves a "smoke-free generation".
"We understand, quitting is not an easy task, but it is a journey worth worth embarking upon," Herbosa said.
Among strategies he shared to quit smoking are cold turkey - quitting smoking abruptly - using nicotine patches - which can help lessen withdrawal upon quitting the habit - and having a personal motivation.
Keeping the economy afloat
Public health think tank HealthJustice urged the government to help and equip tobacco farmers transition to what they call "more productive agricultural products".
Legal consultant Atty. Benedict Nisperos said this will help the country achieve food security and still maintain jobs, while also lessening production of raw products for cigarettes.
"We need food, not tobacco. We have to transform our tobacco farmers. If we want to create more jobs, transform them from planting tobacco products into healthy agricultural products, which will somehow support our food security," he explained.
For those who work in cigarette factories, Nisperos said alternative jobs should be available.
"Iyong mga workers, dapat suportahan iyong transition nila from the industry - not only the farmers - the whole industry... Dapat may programa ang gobyerno... Processing ng mga productive agricultural products, may derivative jobs that will come after," he explained, adding the economy will reap the benefits of quitting smoking - as there will be less people who will get sick, and Filipinos will be more productive.
He is also proposing higher taxes for tobacco and vape products.
In 2012, the Sin Tax Law was passed, which imposes higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol products - dubbed as "sin" products - so that Filipinos can avoid vices and there will be bigger revenue for healthcare.