Young Lives Up in Smoke
By Kara Santos
MANILA, Feb 15, 2010 (IPS) - Whether they choose to light up their first cigarette on their own or are unwitting victims of passive smoking, Filipino youth are increasingly at risk from tobacco exposure.
"The younger a child starts to smoke, the greater the chances of becoming a regular smoker," said Dr Maricar Limpin, executive director of the non- government group Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), during a media forum on tobacco use in the Philippines, held on Feb. 12 in the Philippine capital Manila. "The youth are being specifically targeted by the tobacco industry as future customers."
Among Filipino youth aged 13 to 15 years, three in 10 currently use tobacco products, smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco and use ‘shisha’ (a water pipe for smoking), which is gaining popularity in Mid-Eastern restaurants in select urban areas in the country.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) "messages that tobacco kills is not very relevant to young smokers, who believe themselves to be immortal. By the time they understand the health risks and are ready to quit smoking, addiction has taken hold."
Furthermore, young people are regularly exposed to second-hand and even third-hand smoke, the residue left in a room after someone smokes, which often sticks to furniture and clothes. Infants and young children who play with items that have been exposed to cigarette smoke can eventually develop asthma and other smoking-related diseases.
Based on the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), a school-based survey that tracks tobacco use among young people across the world, the Philippines has one of the highest percentages of young smokers across Asian countries. About 30 percent of adolescents in the Philippines' urban areas smoke. Of these, more than 70 percent started smoking between the ages of 13 and 15.
The GYTS was developed by the WHO and the Center for Disease Control, a U.S. federal health agency. Data are compiled by participating countries and released in different years. The latest Philippine study was conducted in 2007.
In other Asian countries, figures are much lower. Country reports indicate, for instance, that Indonesia has 12.6 percent students who "currently smoke cigarettes" and Thailand, 11.7 percent.
In South-east Asia alone, the Philippines has the second highest number of smokers, noted FCAP, one of the organisers of the recent tobacco forum. Over a third of the country’s 90 million population smokes cigarettes.
"Children are the most vulnerable to second-hand smoke, which is six times more poisonous than mainstream smoke. Cigarette smoke is being imposed on them even if they don’t like it. This is a violation of their right to remain healthy and breathe clean air," said Dr Limpin.
About six in ten children live in Filipino houses where other people smoke. Figures from FCAP further show that about 200,000 young Filipinos will suffer from smoking-related diseases early on in their lives, and about 80,000 will perish from it.
Globally, WHO estimates that 250 million children could eventually die of tobacco-related diseases.
Despite a Philippine ban on selling cigarettes to minors aged 18 and below, more than half of the country’s youth can easily buy cigarettes in stores. Enforcement remains weak as most cigarette vendors do not know the law or refuse to enforce it for fear of losing business, according to Dr Limpin.
"Tobacco companies don’t care about existing users. They’re addicted already and will continue to buy cigarettes. They need to replace all those consumers who will eventually die," said health undersecretary Alex Padilla during the forum.
He added that when it comes to cost, the Philippines has gained a reputation for having the highest-priced medicines and cheapest cigarettes in Asia. In the United States, a standard pack of cigarettes averages...
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