Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo by Nopphon Pattanasri/Getty Images
When then-President Fidel V. Ramos signed Presidential Proclamation No. 183 s. 1993, it paved the way for the observance of June as National No Smoking Month in the country.
The aim of the presidential proclamation was to raise public awareness of the ill effects of smoking as well as to encourage smokers to give up the habit.
Leading the celebration is the Department of Health (DOH). This year, the DOH, in collaboration with Vital Strategies and Smoke-free Philippines, launched a campaign rallying for smoke-free beaches, parks, and tourist destinations.
“It is timely to shed light on the harms of tobacco to the environment,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III. “To further strengthen our campaign against the use of tobacco, we have included this initiative to protect our beaches, parks, and tourist destinations from the environmental ill-effects of this product.
“With this,” the health secretary continued, “we hope to further raise awareness and create new areas of impact in our overall effort to ensure the health of the Filipino people.”
Tobacco smoking is one of the world’s largest health problems. According to the Global Burden of Disease – a major study on the causes and risk factors for death and disease published in the medical journal The Lancet – more than 8 million people died prematurely as a result of smoking in 2017.
At least 15% of global deaths are attributed to smoking, a global study found. In some countries, it’s more than 1-in-5 deaths. Smoking deaths typically affect older populations; more than half of deaths occurred in people over 70 years old; 93% were over 50 years.
History records showed tobacco being introduced in the Philippines in the late 16th century during the era of the Spanish colonization when the Augustinians brought cigar tobacco seeds to the colony for cultivation. In 1686, William Dampier visited Mindanao and observed that smoking was already a widespread custom.
A report by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance in 2014 showed the Philippines has about 17 million smokers – or nearly a third of the adult population. Nearly half of all Filipino men and 9% of women smoke. The study said the habit costs the economy nearly $4 billion a year in healthcare and productivity losses.
If you smoke, there’s no way you can escape from its consequences. “Tobacco is a known or probable cause of some 25 different diseases,” the World Health Organization (WHO) reminds.
Among the major diseases tobacco brings to people who smoke are lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema. Tobacco consumption has been explicitly linked to the high incidence and gravity of cardiac disease.
The reason why cigarettes harm nearly every organ of the body is due to the toxins it contains. The United Nations health agency says there are some 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke.
“When burned, cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals,” the American Lung Association states. “At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are toxic. Many of these chemicals are also found in consumer products but these products have warning labels. (But) there is no such warning for the toxins in tobacco smoke.”
Among the chemicals found in tobacco smoke and where these are also found: acetone (found in nail polish remover), acetic acid (an ingredient in hair dye), ammonia (a common household cleaner), arsenic (used in rat poison), benzene (found in rubber cement and gasoline), butane (used in lighter fluid), and cadmium (the active component in battery acid).
Here are more chemicals: carbon monoxide (released in car exhaust fumes), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), lead (used in batteries), naphthalene (an ingredient in mothballs), methanol (a main component in rocket fuel), nicotine (used as an insecticide), tar (material for paving roads), and toluene (used to manufacture paint).
“Smoking causes addiction to nicotine, a stimulant drug that is in tobacco,” says the website medlineplus.gov. “Nicotine addiction makes it much harder for people to quit smoking.”
That’s why if you haven’t started smoking, don’t do it! If you do, quit the habit before it’s too late. “Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of health problems,” medlineplus.gov says. “The earlier you quit, the greater the benefit.”
“Some people can quit smoking just like that and suffer no side effects,” wrote Dr. Willie T. Ong, author of several books on health. “However, for others, it can be a difficult process.”
Dr. Ong cited three factors responsible for the difficulty in quitting. “Knowing these factors will help you prepare yourself for the quitting process,” he said.
The factors were: (1) the number of cigarettes being smoked each day, (2) the people who smoke around the person who wants to quit, and (3) the real reason why the person smokes. “It could be due to peer pressure or for weight control,” Dr. Ong said of the latter.
“If you really want to quit smoking, you must identify the situations that trigger you to smoke, and do your best to avoid them,” Dr. Ong suggested.
As smoking is one of the world’s largest health problems, many countries have already introduced laws to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke in public places. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo R. Duterte, a former smoker, bans smoking in public places.
The ban carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail and a fine of P5,000 pesos, both for indoor and outdoor smoking. It also covers existing bans on tobacco advertisements, promotions, or sponsorship.