Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Warnings for June

It's the end of the month, so I am reposting the 4 Health Warnings I posted as photo on the top right side of this blog. The photos were taken from health warnings on cigarette packs in various countries.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Trouble with Nicotine


“Classify nicotine as a dangerous drug,” stated a Department of Health resolution from the National Health Sector Meeting in November 2008.

What?!? I wondered why a substance that is so common in a popular commodity would merit a harsh recommendation for a national policy? I am not a smoker, but my inquisitive mind tells me there is something more I need to know about this so-called “dangerous drug”.

People can get hooked on a particular TV show, a sports or a hobby, and even a person. In the same way, they can also get hooked on nicotine. People can indulge in the certain activities for some time, and later on, forget them if they no longer find them interesting. But it may be a different story when it comes to nicotine. People who got hooked on nicotine for a time do not really find a way to unhook themselves from it, even when they already decided to do so.

“Addicting” is the word to describe this substance mainly found in cigarettes. And addiction is a brain disease that can be cured, but the habit it forms is surely hard to break.

Nicotine is actually a drug, just like heroin and cocaine, that develops naturally in the tobacco leaf. Scientifically, it is an alkaloid or a chemical substance containing nitrogen as its organic base. Nicotine, as a drug, powerfully affects the brain and central nervous system. When the smoke from the cigarette is inhaled, the nicotine travels from the lungs to his blood stream and brain in less than seven seconds. Nicotine also travels through the blood to other vital organs.


I had a classmate in high school who I can say was a chain-smoker. At that young age, he seemed to already have a high tolerance to nicotine. From time to time, he could be seen smoking cigarettes; that is why he was called “sunog-baga” (direct translation: burning lungs) by my classmates and other students.

Although skinny and feeble, his lungs seemed to be ironically strong against the powerful smoke that frequently came in and out of his mouth. Many boys in our school wanted to be “siga” (bully), and to achieve this status, they have to enlist themselves in a fraternity group and learn three things: smoking, drinking, and taking drugs (marijuana or “tsongki” was the widely-used, available and affordable to students during that time and maybe even now).

This particular classmate is one of the most-revered “siga” in our school and a distinguished member of the top fraternity group in our school. I did not know if he had engaged in the other two tough-guy stuff; all I know is that he is an obvious smoker. And I think he had mastered the art of smoking because I could see him emit smokes of various forms and shapes and also through the nostrils.

The name of my classmate is Angelito, and as his name suggests, there was something of an angel in him that had been thoroughly covered by his rugged appearance and studied rude speech and behavior. As far as I could discern, he really possessed a mild disposition and a keen mind. Through his soft eyes, he could be taken for a kind and intelligent honor student. He is, most of the time, silent, but is not too timid to express himself, especially his tough-talks.

Rumors in our school had it that one of the reasons he went astray of the good boy’s path is that he was greatly affected by family problems. Angelito had a melancholy personality, and I can tell his thinking matured early. Perhaps he was pre-maturely confronted with the ugly reality of the life he had been living with his family which he was not supposed to see too soon. But not being too melodramatic, maybe that was just his upbringing, that his family members are not too concerned of him becoming a great man, though I can say he had the potential.

Ian M. Newman, who wrote for the Journal of School Health, saw cigarette smoking among adolescents as compensatory behavior. Based on the findings of a participant observation study he conducted in 1970 of ninth-grade adolescents, both male and female smokers saw themselves as failing to meet the expectations of parents and school, which seemed to be supported by school results and behavior; whereas non-smokers perceived themselves as more nearly meeting these expectations.

Smoking is seen as a compensatory action by youngsters who do not succeed academically and socially. The role of the school is seen as often reinforcing smoking behavior by its failure to adequately provide alternative modes of achieving success.

Nicotine is regarded as a perfect cure for those who are emotionally distressed, as can be seen in television soap operas and in real life. This claim may be grounded by the fact that nicotine increases the alpha waves in the brain that causes relaxation. Smoking stimulates the release of endorphins, which the body’s natural tranquilizers.

Nicotine can act as a stimulant or sedative in the body depending on the time of the day, metabolism, and stress levels.

According to Charles E. McArthur in his Psychology of Smoking, smokers start smoking largely because of environmental pressure but continue because it satisfies personal needs, especially among the ‘emotionally constricted types’ and anxious people who see smoking as a tension reducer.

In the case of my classmate, he may have had a valid reason to start smoking, but his continued smoking activity is already his own inclination and no longer has anything to do with his family problem.

You may have observed some instances when a person after taking a heavy meal, after having sex, or when nervous and stressed smokes a cigarette. This instinct of a person to smoke during these occasions is brought about by the relaxation effect that nicotine can produce. The feeling of relaxation occurs when nicotine is inhaled after three minutes.

As far as the smoker is concerned, hitting cigarettes makes him feel relaxed; but ask the organs inside his body, and they will tell you they are not relaxed. The pressure is only transferred from the chest cavity to the heart. With nicotine taking effect, the blood is sent to the heart, causing increased blood flow in this area. As a response, this involuntary muscle will have to work a lot. The heart beats faster and brain wave activity increases. This may cause a difficulty in breathing. The exhaustion that heart and lungs experienced during the smoking activity would require more oxygen.

Poor heart.


We have to understand that nicotine is actually a lethal substance. Nicotine is one of the main ingredients of an insecticide solution, which we know is meant to exterminate insects. Nicotine is both a stimulant and a poisonous drug. Through it, insects are killed with their neurotransmitters being disturbed.

Humans have the same neurotransmitter in their brains. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that link brain cells together. This could lead us to think that if nicotine can kill insects at best, it can also kill humans little by little, unconsciously. We heard the saying for so long that it is already becoming a cliché, “a stick of cigarette can reduce five minutes of your life”.

Nicotine is mainly responsible for the development of smoking habits. Murray E. Jarvik, a contributing writer of Learning Mechanisms in Smoking, says that nicotine is the essential ingredient in tobacco responsible for developing and maintaining smoking habits through reinforcing effects produced by stimula-ting the reward mechanisms in the brain. Nicotine, therefore, has the capability of changing an individual into a whole different person. By no means does nicotine set itself different from heroin, cocaine, shabu, or marijuana, for being an addictive and destructive drug.

Another contributing writer, William A. Hunt, defined “habit” as “a fixed behavior pattern overlearned to the point of becoming automatic, and marked by decreasing awareness and increasing dependence on secondary rather than primary reinforcement.”
But giving the benefit of the doubt, although nicotine is seen as a necessary factor for the maintenance of the smoking habit, it may not be a sufficient reason. Man is a rational being and he is still in supreme authority over himself — his own body. He is the one who decides whether to be victimized by nicotine or not.

A person who has acquired the habit of smoking through the help of nicotine could be trapped in the so-called “smoking cycle”, especially those who consume 20 or more cigarettes a day. A smoker who decided to abstain from smoking for some time may inevitably break his vigil sooner than his original plan, for surely he will crave for the nicotine he feels he was deprived of.

During his vigil, he becomes anxious and implacable, and wishes that a cigarette is available at hand. For him, the easiest answer for his inexplicable pangs is none other than the cigarette itself, “even just one stick” he would say to himself. This dilemma in the life of the wretched smoker is called “nicotine withdrawal syndrome”. This happens and obviously felt when a smoker already resolved upon quitting smoking cigarette for life.

Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that reinforces a person’s desire to smoke. Smokers who prefer to take the process of transformation back to being a non-smoker step-by-step resort to using ‘nicotine-free’ cigarettes. But eventually, they will realize that they are not getting enough of this superficial stuff and will want to go for the real thing again.

The smoker rejects the improvised but therapeutic cigarette because it fails to give him the ‘hit’ that his senses are accustomed to. This struggle becoming apparent, the smoker cannot deny that he is indeed ‘hooked’ on nicotine.

Nicotine as a foreign substance is naturally unacceptable to the human body, and if it is forcibly taken in, the body cannot help but react strangely and cause some abnormalities within it. The smoker must overcome the nicotine withdrawal syndrome. He can take this negative thing as a good sign, because it means that the process of his healing has already begun.

The objective here is to return, though not totally, to the body’s pristine quality. The smoker may find his healing process formidable, or he may feel himself in a state of equilibrium where he struggles between opposing weights, but he must not doubt the validity of his resolution, because breaking free from nicotine is indeed the right thing to do.

After all that has been said, I am for the classification of nicotine as a dangerous drug!

This article is written by Marven T. Baldo, a student of Polytechnic University of the Philippines and an on-the-job trainee of the Department of Health’s National Center for Health Promotion. This article has been published in the DOH HealthBeat Magazine, Issue No. 53, March - June 2009. Photo above from the Internet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pinoy No Smoking Rap

MODUS OPERANDI composed and performed this No Smoking Rap for the youth. This video in incorporated in the "Silang Kabataan Ayaw sa Sigarilyo" produced by the Department of Health, Silang Municipal Office of Cavite, and the Seventh Day Adventist. (FYI - The video was written and directed by me. Hehehe.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

And Now, Third-Hand Smoke

Okay, everybody knows that cigarette smoke leaves an unpleasant smell on the breath of the smoker. The stink also remains in his/her clothes, hair and skin. But wait, there’s more.

The gases and small particles in cigarette smoke are deposited on every surface the smoker comes in contact with and the environment where the cigarette was smoked in. These toxic particles remain long after the cigarette has been put out and any secondhand smoke has been removed from the area.

This is called “third hand smoke”, a new term coined by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) to describe another set of dangers associated with cigarette smoke.

“Third-hand smoke presents a serious health risk for young children who may crawl on contaminated surfaces and ingest toxins via hand-to-mouth,” said Jonathan Winickoff, the lead research author and a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Richmond Center.

Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous.

Winickoff explained that the developing brain of a child is uniquely susceptible to extremely low levels of toxins. Babies and children are closer to surfaces such as floors. They tend to touch or even mouth (put their mouths to) the contaminated surfaces. Children ingest twice the amount of dust that grown-ups do due to faster respiration and proximity to dusty surfaces.

Winickoff’s team was the first to examine adult attitudes about the health risks to children of third-hand smoke and how those beliefs may relate to rules about smoking in their homes.
The result of their study was published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed more than 1,500 households in an effort to learn about adult attitudes regarding the danger third-hand smoke represents to their children and how that might affect smoking in the home. The following are highlights of what they discovered.

• On secondhand smoke: approximately 95 percent of nonsmokers and 84 percent of smokers believe that secondhand smoke is hazardous for children.

• On the issue of whether third-hand smoke threatens the health of children: 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers felt that third-hand smoke harms kids.

• When asked about rules regarding smoking in the home: approximately 88 percent of nonsmokers said they didn’t allow smoking, while only 27 percent of smokers prohibit smoking in the home. However, both non-smokers and smokers who felt that third-hand smoking was harmful to children’s health were more inclined to restrict smoking in their homes.

By introducing the phrase “third-hand smoke”, the study points to the need for every smoker to try to quit. That’s the only way to completely protect their children, Winickoff stressed.

Co-authors of the study are Joan Friebely, EdD, and Cheryl Sherrod, MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy; Susanne Tanski, MD, Dartmouth Medical School; Georg Matt, PhD, and Melbourne Hovel, PhD, MPH, San Diego State University; and Robert McMillen, PhD, Mississippi State University. Support for the study includes grants from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

Photo Source

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Major Poisons in Second-Hand Smoke

This newspaper advertisement says it all. The concentration of most toxins per cigarette in second-hand (sidestream) smoke is typically higher than in first-hand (mainstream) smoke the smoker inhales. (CLICK TO ENLARGE: This photo was taken from a World Lung Foundation powerpoint presentation.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Smoking & Breast Cancer

The Link

“Smoking causes breast cancer. So does second-hand smoke.”

These are the conclusions of a Canadian-led panel that poured over more than 100 recent studies in search of the linkages.

Anthony Miller, associate director of research at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health said that for a long time, there had been academic debate on the link between breast cancer and second hand smoke. As recently as 2006, a U.S. Surgeon General report had determined that research evidence was “suggestive but not sufficient”.

“But our reanalysis of all the evidence, we concluded something quite different,” said Miller in a published news report in Toronto Star in April.

The panel found evidence that smoking could increase breast cancer risks by 40 to 50 per cent in some cases. And in genetically susceptible women the risk could be doubled, he said.

The new analysis also showed that there was a significant link between breast cancer and second hand smoke in pre-menopausal women and a strong connection between the illness and active smoking in women of all ages.

Although there is not yet enough data to determine how many cases of breast cancer could be traced directly back to tobacco, the report should help to curb smoking among women, for whom breast cancer often holds a unique and particular terror, Miller said.

Women Smokers in the Philippines

Breast cancer is the second leading type of cancer in the Philippines and the first among women with risks increasing after age 30. In Asia, the Philippines has the highest incidence rate of breast cancer and is considered to have the ninth highest incidence rate in the world today.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the highest smoking prevalence among young women. The Tobacco Atlas 2009 also puts the Philippines at No. 16 among the list of Top 20 countries with the highest female smoking population in the world. This is translated as roughly 12.3% of adult females smoke. This is far worse compared to the 2006 list that placed the Philippines at No. 26.

Smoking prevalence among adult females in the Philippines is twice higher than in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, or Singapore. In the said Asian countries, the said prevalence, based on standardized data, is between 1-4% while the Philippines is already at 8.5%.

As for the female youth in the country, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (2007) revealed that 19.6% of girls aged 13-15 smoke while more that 60% of girls are said to be exposed to second hand smoke.

Photo from Flickr

Lost Voice from Smoking

Emer Rojas is not a health worker but he is the most credible speaker
on the ill effects of smoking. But alas, this speaker lost his voice

to laryngeal cancer because of smoking.

“We all need to be reminded every now and then of what cigarettes can do to our lives and to our family.” Emer Rojas - an IT business owner, trade lecturer and radio host – said his life will never be the same again because of smoking. He lost his voice to laryngeal cancer.

A chain smoker since he was 18, Emer was diagnosed with cancer in November 2002. Almost immediately, his larynx, a source of vocal tone in speech, was removed by surgery. In January 2003, he underwent another operation to widen his stoma, the mouth-like opening on his neck.

The medical expenses for his check-ups, examinations, surgeries and radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions left a drain on his family’s pocket. And like other type of cancers, laryngeal cancer might return after treatment, so he still spends P5,000 to P16,500 every month to monitor his condition. The expenses are for testing his blood chemistry, ultrasound, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imaging.

With the aid of an electrolarynx, a device pressed against the skin of the neck to produce vocal sounds, he said that having cancer drains the family’s financial reserves, as well as prevents one from earning a living.

Cancer also changed his lifestyle. He says: “Losing one’s voice is like losing your sight or hearing. It is recognized as one of the permanent disabilities in the Philippines. It affected me as a radio announcer and a mentor in training institutions. It also prevents me from doing the normal business communications and chores.”

Rojas misses the time when he could still travel. Now, he can no longer play basketball or tennis, afraid that he might break a bone.

“I miss my social life. I was always with my peers, having a cup of coffee, talking,” he says. “When we are in a public place and it’s too noisy, my friends won’t understand me. So I keep quiet or I just talk to them through email.”

Rojas learned this lesson the hard way, and he wants to spare the youth—the new target market of cigarette companies—from a similar experience. Today at 50, Emer makes the rounds of schools in Metro Manila and key cities across the country, encouraging young people to avoid smoking.

He’s not a doctor or a health worker, but he is a most credible speaker on the ill effects of smoking.

In 2003, he joined the Philippine Laryngectomy Club (PLC), a group that helps rehabilitate laryngeal cancer patients, and became its president. In 2007, he formed the New Vois Association doing anti-smoking advocacy and networking activities.

This was also posted on MENstream.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Smoking is “Haram” (Forbidden)

Dr. Tahir B. Sulaik, Secretary of Health of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said that “eminent Muslim Scholars have issued Fatwas (Islamic Rulings) declaring that cultivating and/or trading and/or smoking tobacco or cigarette is undoubtedly Haram (forbidden) in Islam and that the Supreme Council of Darul-Ifta of the Philippines based in Cotabato City unanimously ruled that cigarette smoking is deemed Haram.”

This statement is embodied in his letter to House Deputy Minority Leader Didagen Dilangalen to support tobacco control legislation, particularly House Bill 3364 or the Picture-Based Health Warning on Cigarette Labels bill which is still pending despite the Philippine deadline for compliance under the international treaty laws (or the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) last September 2008.

This timely announcement boosts the anti-tobacco efforts of various sectors this month – the No Smoking Month.

Photo from the Internet.

Friday, June 12, 2009

US Landmark Bill To Regulate Tobacco

The US Senate votes to allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco which President Obama has said he will sign it into law as soon as it reached his desk.

The New York Times report by Duff Wilson published on June 11, 2009 has summarized the new policy on tobacco:

What the FDA Could Do Under the Bill

• Set up a Center for Tobacco Products financed by industry fees, hire a director and staff, and form a scientific advisory committee.

• Adopt standards to regulate hazardous chemicals in existing tobacco products.

• Approve or ban proposed new tobacco products.

• Prohibit use of terms like “light”, “mild” and “low tar.”

• Eliminate flavorings like clove. Consider eliminating menthol.

• Require larger, graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.

• Further restrict advertising and promotion of tobacco products.

• Require tobacco companies to disclose previously secret details about ingredients.

What the FDA Could Not Do

•Ban al tobacco products.

• Order the complete removal of nicotine from tobacco products.

• Raise the national minimum age to purchase tobacco products above 18 years.

Main Difference between Senate and House Bills

• On cigarettes, Senate bill requires graphic warnings covering at least 50 percent of front and back of cigarette package. House bill requires warnings covering at least 30 percent.

More than four decades after the surgeon general declared smoking a health hazard, the Senate cleared the final hurdle to empowering federal officials to regulate cigarettes and other forms of tobacco for the first time.

When will the Philippine Congress follow suit? Charter Change or Health?!? Huh!#@&%

The photo shows a classic tobacco print ad in the US,
with beautifully crafted message to lure smokers.
Taken from the Internet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hail, Hale!

HALE – a four-piece alternative rock band in the Philippines – has been jointly recognized by the World Health Organization, the Department of Health and the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control Philippines for their exemplary contribution to, and as a champion of, tobacco control advocacy. The award was given during the World No Tobacco Day smoke-free concert at the Rajah Sulayman Park in Manila on May 31.

Champ Lui Pio, the band’s lead vocal and guitars, said he has asthma and hates the smell of cigarette smoke. He vowed that he will continue to involve himself and his band in anti-tobacco/anti-smoking efforts to prompt the youth to stop smoking or not to pick up the habit. The members of the band include Roll Martinez (guitars, vocals); Sheldon Gellada (bass, vocals); and Paolo Santiago (drums, percussion).

Hale hits off melodiously well with the hopelessly romantic Filipino audience. Their impact is felt everywhere you hear their song “Broken Sonnet” and “The Day You Said Goodnight”-- the songs that have sent young hearts pumping into overdrive.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Smoker's Body

It is not always cancer or heart disease that kills smokers. There are a lot more…

HAIR LOSS. Smoking weakens the immune system leaving the body more vulnerable to diseases such as crythematosus which can cause hair loss, ulceration in the mouth and rashes on the face, scalp and hands.

CATARACTS. Smoking is believed to cause or worsen several eye conditions. Those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day are twice likely to develop cataracts – a clouding of the eye lens that blocks light and may lead to blindness. Smoke causes cataracts in two ways: by irritating the eyes and by releasing chemicals into the lungs that then travel up the bloodstream to the eyes.

WRINKLING. Smoking prematurely ages skin by wearing away proteins that give it elasticity, depleting it of Vitamin A and restricting blood flow. Smoker’s skin is dry, leathery and etched with tiny lines, especially around the lips and eyes. In one study, smokers in their 40s had facial wrinkles similar to those nonsmokers 20 years older.

HEARING LOSS. Because smoking creates plaque on blood vessel walls, decreasing blood flow to the inner ear, smokers can lose their hearing earlier than nonsmokers (up to 16 years sooner, according to one study) and are more susceptible to hearing loss caused by ear infections or loud noise.

SKIN CANCER. Smoking does not cause melanoma (a sometimes deadly form of skin cancer), but it does increase your chances of dying from it (this may be because smoking impairs the immune system). And smokers have a 50 percent greater risk of contracting squamous cell carcinoma – a cancer that leaves scaly, reddish eruptions of the skin.

TOOTH DECAY. Smoking interferes with the mouth’s chemistry, creating excess plaque, yellowish teeth and contributing to tooth decay. Smokers are one and a half times more likely to lose their teeth.

LUNG AILMENTS. In the Soviet bloc, around 88,000 smokers die each year from debilitating lung conditions other than lung cancer. Emphysema is a swelling and rupturing of the lung’s capacity to take in oxygen (and expel carbon dioxide). In extreme cases, a trachetomy helps patients breathe. An opening is cut in the windpipe, allowing a ventilator to force air into the lungs. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, creates a build-up of puss-filled mucus, resulting in a painful cough and breathing difficulties.

OSTEOPOROSIS. Carbon monoxide, the main poisonous gas in car exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke, binds to blood much more readily than oxygen, cutting the oxygen-carrying power of heavy smokers’ blood by as much as 15 percent. As a result, smokers’ bones lose density, fracture more easily and take up to 80 percent longer to heal. Those who smoke more than one pack per day are more susceptible to back problems. One study shows that industrial workers who smoke are five times more likely to experience back pain after an injury.

HEART DISEASE. Smoking-related cardiovascular disease kills more than 600,000 people each year in the world’s developed countries. Smoking makes the heart beat faster, raises blood pressure and increases the risk of hypertension and clogged arteries.
STOMACH ULCERS. Smoking reduces resistance to the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers. It also impairs the stomach’s ability to neutralize acid after a meal, leaving the acid to eat away at the stomach lining. Ulcers in smokers are harder to treat and more likely to recur.

DISCOLORED FINGERS. The tar in cigarette smoke collects on the fingers and fingernails, staining them yellowish-brown.

CERVICAL CANCER. Besides increasing risk of cervical cancer and uterine cancer, smoking can create fertility problems for women and complications during pregnancy and child birth. And smoking lowers estrogen levels, speeding up menopause.
DEFORMED SPERM. Smoking can deform sperm and damage its DNA, causing miscarriage or birth defects. In fact, men who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day have an extra 42 percent risk of fathering a child who contracts cancer. Smoking also diminishes sperm count and reduces the blood flow to the penis, sometimes causing impotence.
PSORIASIS. Smokers are two to three times as likely to develop psoriasis, a non-contagious inflammatory skin condition that leaves itchy, oozing red patches all over the body. While researches are not sure how smoking aggravates psoriasis, they hypothesize that smoking may alter white blood cells or release high levels of toxic chemicals.

BUERGER’S DISEASE. Smoking can damage blood vessel walls, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the extremities. In serious cases, Buerger’s disease can lead to gangrene (the death of body tissue) and even the amputation of a limb.

CANCER. At least 60 elements in tobacco smoke have been shown to cause cancer, according to Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking group in the UK. Male smokers are 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers. And according to a number of studies, the longer one smokes, the greater the risk of developing a number of other cancers, including cancer of the nose (2x greater); tongue , mouth, salivary gland and pharynx (6x for women and 27x for men); throat (12x); esophagus (8-10x); kidneys (5x); penis (2-3x); and anus (8-9x). The link between smoking and breast cancer is perhaps the most controversial. While some evidence suggests smoking increases a woman’s risk of developing the cancer, other evidence indicates that, by lowering estrogen levels, smoking actually reduces the risk.

Philippines Department of Health poster

designed by Nong Mendoza

Graphic Health Warnings Now!

Neighboring Countries with Graphic Health Warning.
Last box translation: Philippines, When? Wake Up!

Filipinos cannot relate with cigarette pack warnings as a result of English-only textual health warning labels. Recent studies showed that many smokers still do not know that tobacco causes disease and premature death. Over 90% know little beyond a vague notion that “smoking is bad for you”. Moreover, almost all respondents, including smokers, prefer picture-warnings over text warnings.

The 2007 Philippine Global Youth Tobacco Survey shows that 1 in every 3 Filipino teenagers aged 13-15 smoke. Youth smoking has increased by 30% in just 2 years. If nothing is done, every other Filipino teenager would be smoking by 2011. Prominent picture based health warnings detract from the glamour and appeal of cigarettes to the Filipino youth.

On September 4, 2005, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in the country. By September 4, 2008, the Philippines should have complied with Article 11 minimum standards as a means to protect the Filipino people from the harms of smoking through effective measures on packaging and labelling of tobacco products.

Since December 2007, legislative bills (Senate Bill 2377 and House Bill 3364) have been filed in both Houses of Philippine Congress that will mandate the use of picture warnings instead of plain text warnings on no less than 50% of both the front and back surfaces of tobacco packages. The bills are aimed at presenting a more accurate depiction of real life debilitating diseases caused by tobacco smoking through strong pictorial warning messages. Obviously, these bills are obviously met with strong opposition from the tobacco industry, using tactics to kill the bill. The primary authors of the bills are stalling for the right time that would not come.

Funny because the Philippines is currently producing cigarettes with graphic health warning labels for export to Thailand and other countries. However, it cannot produce the same for local consumption. Somehow, someone somewhere wants the Filipinos die of smoking.

Philippines is Being Left Behind

As of 2008, at least 23 jurisdictions have finalized requirements for picture warnings. The listing below includes the year of implementation, including different years where there have been two or more rounds of picture warnings.

1. Canada (2001)
2. Brazil (2002; 2004; 2009)
3. Singapore (2004; 2006)
4. Thailand (2005, 2007)
5. Venezuela (2005)
6. Jordan (2005)1
7. Australia (2006; rotation of Sets A, B every 12 months)
8. Uruguay (2006; 2008, 2009)
9. Panama (2006)
10. Belgium (2006)
11. Chile (2006, 2007, 2008)
12. Hong Kong (2007)
13. New Zealand (2008; rotation of Sets A, B every 12 months)
14. Romania (2008)
15. United Kingdom (2008)
16. Egypt (2008)
17. Brunei (2008)
18. India (2008)
19. Taiwan (2009)
20. Malaysia (2009)
21. Peru (2009)
22. Djibouti (2009)
23. Switzerland (2010, rotation of Sets 1, 2, 3 every 24 months)

Many other countries/jurisdictions are in the process of doing so, or have stated that picture warnings are under consideration, including France, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Latvia, Macao, Mongolia, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, the Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and potentially Yemen), and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, which includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago. (Source: Canadian Cancer Society, September 23, 2008.)

Photo designed by Break Time

Bad Picture in the Philippines

Here are some fast facts that paint a bad picture in the Philippines:

• 10 Filipinos die by the hour due to tobacco-related diseases or that is 1 Filipino dying every 6 minutes.

• According to the 2003 National Nutrition and Health Survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, 34.8% of adults are current smokers, of which 56.3 are males and 8.6% are females.

• The 2007 Philippine Global Youth Tobacco Survey reported that 22% teenagers currently smoke and that 1 in 5 students aged 13 – 15 smoke. This reflects and increase of 30% over the past 2 years.

• 1/3 of the population is at risk of dying from debilitating diseases and painful deaths due to tobacco use.

• The average Filipino spends approximately 2.6% of the household income on tobacco or an equivalent of PhP144 a month.

• Health costs of approximately PhP 288 Billion are spent annually on 4 tobacco-related diseases – cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cancer and diabetes.

• In 2003, the Philippines enacted Republic Act (RA) 9211 aimed to: promote smoke-free areas; inform public of the health risks of tobacco use; ban all tobacco advertisement and sponsorship and restrict promotions; regulate labelling of tobacco products; and protect the youth from being initiated to smoking.

• However, the unabated increase in smoking among adolescents and adults reflect weaknesses in the implementation of RA 9211.

Photo from Friendster

Global Tobacco Epidemic

Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. It kills: 1 person every 6 seconds; over 5 million this year; more than those of infectious diseases like TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS combined; and 1 billion people this century, unless urgent action is taken.

Tobacco is also the only legal consumer product that can harm everyone exposed to it and it kills up to half of those who use as intended. And unlike many other dangerous substances, tobacco-related diseases usually do not begin for years or decades after tobacco use starts.

Because developing countries are still in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic, they have yet to experience the full impact of tobacco related diseases and death already evident in the wealthier countries where tobacco use has been common for much of the past century.

Tobacco use is common throughout the world due to low prices, aggressive and widespread marketing, lack of awareness about its dangers and inconsistent public policies against its uses.

Most smokers become addicted to tobacco when they are too young to make "informed choices" that will affect their health and life. By the time most smokers are old enough to make informed choices, they are addicted to cigarettes. Cigarettes are addictive in a similar way to heroin or cocaine—and no one doubts that heroin or cocaine traffic calls for government action.

Cigarette smoking is a "communicated" disease, in the words of the World Health Organization. Tobacco companies communicate through their advertising the romance and the social benefits of smoking. People the world over see regulating advertising abuse as a government responsibility.

The unabated increase in smoking among adolescents and adults reflect weaknesses in the implementation of policies and programs to curb the epidemic.

Globalization of the tobacco epidemic restricts the capacity of countries to regulate tobacco through domestic legislation alone and that international coordination of policies is essential. Thus, the WHO introduced the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as early as 1996. It aimed at protecting present and future generations from the consequences of tobacco. It is the first Public Health Treaty under WHO. With 168 countries signed and 40 country ratifications achieved, the treaty entered into force on February 27, 2005.

The cure for this devastating epidemic is dependent on concerted actions of people in the community, government and civil societies. The WHO, through the FCTC, has developed and is pushing for MPOWER, an acronym that denotes six proven tobacco control policies:

• Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies;
• Protect people from tobacco smoke;
• Offer help to quit tobacco use;
• Warn about dangers of tobacco;
• Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion & sponsorship;
• Raise taxes on tobacco.

“Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not.” – Sir Richard Doll

Photo from the
World Health Organization

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June is No Smoking Month

in the Philippines.