The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is now Southeast Asia’s number one tobacco-consuming country with every Filipino smoker puffing an estimated 1,073 sticks yearly, according to (DOH) Department of Health Secretary Enrique Ona.
“It is alarming that the Philippines is now the number one smoking country in Southeast Asia," Ona told legislators Thursday during the Senate hearing on the sin tax bill.
The DOH chief said the findings were based on three studies by the World Health Organization, which also showed that about 17 million Filipinos smoke and 10 die hourly due to smoking-related diseases.
Tobacco use is a risk factor in six of the world's eight leading causes of preventable diseases, according to the DOH secretary.
He said a single stick of cigarette contains 6,000 chemicals including 50 carcinogens or cancer-causing ingredients.
“What is disturbing is that these diseases are predominantly present in low to middle income countries”, said Ona adding that the top four killers in the Philippines -- ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer –- are all attributable to smoking.
The annual social cost of these four leading smoking-related diseases is a “staggering” P177 billion, said Ona.
“Yet, this amount is still an underestimation, considering that there are 39 other diseases related to smoking,” he added.
Aside from being the top smoking country in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is also the nation in the region with the highest prevalence of smoking among teens aged 13 to 15, according to the DOH chief.
Of the 17 million Filipino smokers, 17.5 percent are young girls and 28.3 percent are boys from the said age group. Ona warned that early smoking would consequently lead to an earlier onset of smoking-related non-communicable diseases.
Citing the 2008 National Nutrition and Heart Survey, the health chief said smoking is the number one cause of stroke and heart attack in the country with about 50,000 deaths per year.
“In fact it (smoking) causes more stroke and heart attack than diabetes, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol,” he said.
Ona told legislators that the low prices and low taxes imposed on cigarette products contribute much to the high prevalence of smoking in the country.
He said these factors drive the poorest of the population to smoke and suffer the most from non-communicable diseases.
Citing a Lancet article in 2011, Ona said the lowest 20 percent or the poorest Filipinos smoke more than richest or the upper 20 percent of the population.
Ona said the solution to this recurring problem would be the passage of the sin tax bill.
He said Thailand was able to decrease the prevalence of smoking to 18 percent in 2007 from 30 percent in 1992 after the country increased the prices of its leading tobacco brand by 400 percent.
“This bill, despite its higher taxes will not kill the tobacco industry, much less the alcohol or spirit industry, as shown in the Thailand experience. Every cent removed from this bill is a life placed in jeopardy and lesser funds for the healthcare of our people,” Ona said.