This IS personal: Health advocates share pain of losing loved ones to tobacco

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A diehard smoker takes a puff in InterAksyon file photo. Anti-tobacco groups are seeking a hike in the sin tax as part of the package of tax reforms pending in Congress.

MANILA – Health advocates known to have lobbied for stronger tobacco control have taken their fight to social media, sharing their personal experience with smoking.

Dr. Antonio Dans, professor of cardiology and clinical epidemiology at the University of the Philippines, and one of the most active anti-smoking advocates in the country, revealed his family’s pain from the loss of his father and sister, both to tobacco.

Dans said his father was a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer at an early age of 69. Two years prior to his death, the older Dans had suffered a stroke.

“Smoking was not his fault,” Dr Dans, said arguing that smokers just like his father were thrown into the habit because it was glamorized and because cigarettes in the Philippines, being one of the cheapest in the world, were highly accessible.

Dans’ sister, Dinky, was also snatched from their family because of smoking. Fourteen years ago Dr. Dans diagnosed his sister to have lung cancer. She was 53 and months later, he saw her slowly breathe her last breath while in the arms of her husband and three children.

“Tobacco kidnapped my sister when she was a young teenager and tobacco eventually murdered her,” Dr. Dans said in his Facebook post.

Dr. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines, also shared how her family struggled through hard times when her father died in his 30s.

Dr Limpin said she was only six or seven years old when her father, a chain smoker, passed away.

“You now understand that this fight against tobacco use is a personal one for me. I’ve seen and experienced how it is to lose a loved one because of smoking,” she said in another Facebook post.

Using the hashtags #DearAngara #HealthWarriors, health advocates are seeking the people’s support to persuade legislators to include increasing the sin tax in tobacco as part of the government’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN).

New Vois Association of the Philippines President Emer Rojas, a cancer survivor and himself a victim of smoking, warned that the country will see a million more smokers in five years if tobacco tax is not increased.

“We’ve seen how the sin tax dramatically reduced the number of Filipino smokers from 17 million in 2009 to 15.9 million in 2015,” said Rojas, one of those who strongly campaigned for the amendment of the sin tax in 2012.

Rojas warned that if the tobacco tax is not increased, the gains achieved through the sin tax law may be reversed.

The sin tax was meant to increase funding for health and reduce the number of smokers by imposing higher taxes on tobacco products.

It is estimated that 150,000 Filipinos die every year or roughly 400 everyday from smoking.

Health advocates want a unitary tobacco tax increase from P30 to P60 starting next year to sustain the gains of the 2012 sin tax reform.

Rojas, who used to be an engineer, businessman and radio broadcaster, lost his vocal cords when he was diagnosed with stage 4 laryngeal cancer, a condition he developed through smoking.