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Noynoy says he will smoke even on no-tobacco day

May 31, 2010 1:55pm

Not even World No-Tobacco Day can stop president-apparent Sen. Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III from indulging in one of his most controversial habits – smoking.

Aquino told reporters at the Senate Monday he is not inclined to take a break from puffing a cigarette on the occasion.

“Palagay ko po (I think)," he said smiling when asked if he would light a stick today.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has selected "Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women" as the theme for the World No-Tobacco Day, which falls today.

According to WHO, more than 1.5 million women die from tobacco use annually, most of them in poor and middle-income countries. In addition, two-thirds of the 430,000 adults who die each year from second-hand smoke are women.

"We must turn back the global tobacco epidemic. On World No Tobacco Day, I urge all governments to address this public health threat. Tobacco use is not stylish or empowering. It is ugly and deadly," a statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Last week, Aquino said he was not inclined to stop smoking yet as kicking the habit might create pressure affecting his decisions.

He said he was not keen on being a poster boy for anti-smoking advocates, adding he would stop smoking at the "appropriate" time as there might be too much pressure on him if he kicks the habit at this time.

"Noong tumakbo ako, alam ng taumbayan [na] naninigarilyo ako. At the appropriate time na hihinto ako, titigil ako. So long as nako-control ako sa mga batas at wala akong naiistorbo baka parte ito ng kalayaan kong natitira," Aquino said.

(When I ran for the presidency, everyone knew I was a smoker. I will kick the habit at the appropriate time. As long as I follow the controls of the laws and I don't disturb other people, then maybe this is a part of what remains of my freedom.)

Pressures from the industry

As the world marks World No-Tobacco Day, anti-tobacco advocates advised Aquino not to be swayed by pressures from the tobacco industry once he assumes office next June 30.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP) said that if Aquino thinks he is facing much pressure from well-meaning people to quit smoking, the more he would be pressed by the demands of tobacco companies.

“It is with the tobacco industry that he should be cautious about. This industry is bent on influencing the public sphere to ensure that it will continue to sell cigarettes while the government’s health agency deals with the increasing number of deaths due to smoking-related diseases," said Dr. Maricar Limpin, FCAP executive director, in an article posted on the Health Department website.

The president-apparent should keep his doors open to professional help, if he really wants to quit smoking, Limpin added.

A pulmonolgist, Limpin said programs on how to stop smoking are available in government and private hospitals

Kicking the habit is difficult because of the addiction to nicotine, according to her.

Trying to quit now would not add “stress" to Aquino’s life, as he claims, but he should exercise the willpower to stop, she said.

Young people as the target of tobacco companies these days have no idea about the harmful effects of smoking to their health, Limpin said.

"The tobacco industry does not want to stipulate clearly the fatal impact of tobacco on the consumers, lest they lose the profits they currently enjoy," she said.

How to quit

While the WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative said Aquino could pick several options as a "patient" who needs to stop smoking, it reminded him that his parents had symptoms of exposure to cigarette smoke.

"(From) his public statements, it seems that Mr. Aquino is aware that he is not only damaging his own health but is setting a poor example to his fellow-countrymen and fellow-countrywomen and has expressed a desire to quit," WHO Tobacco-Free Initiative Western Pacific regional adviser Susan Mercado said in an article posted on the Department of Health website.

She noted that former Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. suffered a heart attack while the late President Corazon C. Aquino had colorectal cancer. "Both of these conditions have been linked to cigarette smoke exposure," she said.

Mercado said that with the coming into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005, anti-smoking programs have changed dramatically.

"In the past, smoking and quitting were left to the individual smoker. Today, because of the WHO FCTC, it is also government's responsibility and mandate to control tobacco use," she said.

Unfinished agenda

Mercado said it took 17 years from 1987 for the first anti-smoking bill in the Philippines to get passed into law.

Now, she said there is a huge unfinished agenda for the Philippine government to comply with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"Noynoy Aquino is a smoker like 17 million other Filipinos. Like others who were born in the 1960s, he grew up in an environment where smoking was the norm – even among role models like priests, doctors, businessmen, scientists, scholars, actors, athletes," she noted.

Women’s groups also scored the tobacco industry over deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure more women into smoking.

The groups representing the urban poor and farmers sectors said this puts the lives of Filipino women, especially the young, in danger.

“More young women will be convinced to embrace this addiction if the government fails to decisively act and prevent the tobacco industry from further victimizing our young children. The government cannot afford to stay at the sidelines while the industry continues to prey on our children," said WomanHealth Philippines national coordinator Ana Maria Nemenzo, in an article posted on the Department of Health website.

Women smokers

Meanwhile, the 2009 Global Adult Tobacco Survey reported that 2.8 million Filipino women 15 years and older were smokers.

“We urge Health Secretary Cabral to institute administrative measures to put more effective health information in cigarette packs to effectively counter the aggressive marketing strategies of the tobacco industry. The statistics on girls as young as 13 years becoming addicted to smoking is really alarming and increases the reproductive health risks for those who would become mothers some day," said Mercy Fabros, WomanHealth advocacy campaign coordinator.

Studies conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) showed the risk of heart attack for women who smoke and use oral contraceptives was greater than for non-smokers.

The studies also found that pregnant women who smoke were twice as likely to have a miscarriage during pregnancy.

"Women are a major target of opportunity for the tobacco industry, which needs to recruit new users to replace the nearly half of current users who will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases," the DOH said. — with a report by Jam Sisante/LBG/VS, GMANews.TV
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