The price of cigarette at 20P the stick can prevent young people from smoking

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MANILA – Studies show that smoking or tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death, disability and disease in all countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 7 million deaths from smoking worldwide each year. About 260,000 of these cases are child deaths caused by inhaling second-hand smoke.

In addition to child deaths from second-hand smoke, the growing rate of adolescents who use tobacco has increased alarmingly, especially in third world countries like the Philippines.

The Global Youth Smoking Survey (GYTS) reported that there had been a 3.1% increase in the number of schoolchildren aged 13 to 15 who smoke from 2011 to 2015 across the country. Most of these children are boys.

GYTS is a school-based survey that enables countries to monitor tobacco use among young people and to guide the implementation and evaluation of tobacco prevention and control programs.

Smoke out of curiosity

Robbie, 30, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that he started smoking when he entered high school at a boys-only school out of curiosity and peer pressure.

“I started smoking since I was 13 years old. So roughly, mga 13 years old na (but I started smoking regularly when I was in college. So pretty much it’s been 13 years already), ”he said.

He consumes 10 sticks per day, or two to three packs per week.

Robbie’s case is just one of the many smokers who started smoking when they were minors.

Ralph Degollacion, head of the Health Justice project, said it was a dangerous national problem as more and more young Filipinos could fall ill and die prematurely from smoking.

“We conducted a recent survey with the National Youth Commission in 2017. We found that 31.92% of Filipino minors smoke tobacco products. This means that nearly nine in ten smokers start smoking when they are minors and 98% have started smoking when they are 26 years old, ”he told reporters in an interview on Monday.

Higher tobacco tax, fewer young smokers

Degollacion stressed the need for an aggressive measure that will push them to quit smoking – a higher excise tax on tobacco.

“About 54% of young people in our study said they could be encouraged to quit if the price of each stick of cigarette was increased to PHP20.00, note that the term is only encouraged,” he said.

With the changes in the education curriculum, Degollacion explained that the purchasing power of today’s youth has changed as many of them have already acquired skills that make them employable in certain industries.

“In addition to the allowance, they have a basic income. This means they have more superfluous income than they could spend on anything they want. Yet young people continue to patronize kahit tumaas ang presyo tobacco (even if the price goes up), ”he said.

Spending between PHP 500 to PHP 1,000 per month, Robbie told the PNA that he has no plans to quit smoking just yet.

“Kung bente per stick, depende siguro, pero baka maghanap ng ibang alternative like vaping kung talagang hindi na kaya ng budget (If PHP20 per stick, it maybe depends, but I could look for an alternative like vaping if my budget can more) afford it), “he said.

Degollacion added that the ‘tingi’ (retail) culture, or system in which sari-sari stores operate nationwide, also contributes to the accessibility of cigarettes to young people.

Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance executive director Ulysses Dorotheo (left) and Health Justice project director Ralph Degollacion (right) say the tax increase tobacco excise at PHP 90 per pack could help reduce the number of young smokers nationwide. (ANP photo by Ma. Teresa Montemayor)

Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance, who was also present at the press conference. says there should be a bill banning tingi or selling cigarettes by sticks.

SEATCA is a multisectoral organization created to help member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop and implement effective tobacco control policies.

“Other Asian countries have banned the sale of single-piece cigarettes in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam. Only we and Indonesia allow piece sales, ”he said.

Meanwhile, Robbie told the PNA that raising prices and banning piecemeal cigarettes might not stop smokers like him from quitting altogether.

“Hindi malaking factor ang price. Kung pagbabawal ang tingi ng batas, may bibili pa din ng per pack, pero siguro talagang titipirin na lang (Price is not an important factor. If the law will prohibit tingi, there will still be people who will buy in bundles, but they will skimp on smoking), ”he said.

While such a ban may minimize the accessibility of cigarettes to young people, Dorotheo stressed that government officials should focus on a higher excise tax on tobacco products.

“It is much easier for the government to impose a tax that will lead to an increase in prices and then the increase in prices will be the one that benefits public health,” he said.

Dorotheo added that the reform of excise taxes on tobacco in 2012 reduced the number of adult smokers by 20% nationally from 2009 to 2015.

This translates to over one million Filipinos with lower risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

On November 27, the House of Representatives already approved a five peso increase in the current excise tax of PHP 32.50 per pack of cigarettes.

Nonetheless, Degollacion and Dorotheo, along with other health advocates, continue to push for the 90 peso tax on tobacco products.

“This amount will increase revenue from PHP 12 billion per year to PHP 17.4 billion. (Senator Manny) Pacquiao’s PHP60 proposal (per pack) would increase it to PHP 43 billion and that is the minimum that we want for the funding of universal health care, but it will not give the desired decrease in the number of smokers, ”said Dorotheo.

On the other hand, Degollacion said he was advocating a sell price of at least PHP10 per stick if PHP20 was not possible at this time.

“We wanted that when the president ends his term, we can decrease the number of smokers by a million because we also have to take population growth into account,” he said.

When asked if the inclusion of graphic warnings in cigarette packs has been effective in curbing tobacco use among young people, Dorotheo said it has helped reduce the number of smokers, but that limiting the accessibility of tobacco products to young people could have a result.

Robbie said such graphic warnings don’t really make regular smokers like him quit for health reasons, adding that he has a friend who continues to smoke despite blood cancer.

“It depends on the person. Nakakadiri yung ibang pictures, pero di mo naman tinititigan ‘yun. I guess wala namang nag-yoyosi na would stare quietly at his kaha ng sigarilyo (Some of the pictures are disgusting, but you won’t watch Je guess no smoker would stare at the pack of cigarettes), he said. (ANP)


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