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Percentage of Filipinos who smoke, use tobacco decreases to 19.5% —survey


The prevalence of current tobacco use and smoking among Filipinos aged 15 and above decreased in 2021 to 19.5% of the population or 15.1 million, according to the results of the 2021 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS).

At a press forum on Tuesday, Dr. Vito Roque Jr. of the Department of Health's (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau said this was lower than the prevalence in 2015 of 23.8%, which in turn was lower than 2009's prevalence of 29.7%.

Roque said the exposure to secondhand smoke in homes and public places also “significantly declined,” with the largest decrease in exposure to secondhand smoke occurring in public transportation—from 55.3% in 2009 and 37.6% in 2015 down to 12.2% in 2021.

The exposure to secondhand smoke in homes also declined from 54.4% in 2009 and 34.7% in 2015 to 21.4% in 2021, while in the workplace it fell from 22.6% in 2009 and 21.5% in 2015 to 12.9% in 2021.

The survey also showed that the quit rate among past 12-month smokers (or those who have reported smoking within the last 12 months) in the country decreased from 4.5% in 2009 to 3.9% in 2021.

However, the number of adult smokers thinking of quitting because of health warnings increased from 37.4% in 2009 to 43.7% in 2021.

“Key results from 2009 to 2021 showed a favorable trend in the country’s initiative on tobacco prevention and control. Results show a consistent downward trend in tobacco use prevalence [and] exposure to secondhand smoke,” Roque said.

“These successes may be attributed to the adoption and implementation of tobacco prevention and control health policies and interventions. The results also reflect the effectiveness of the enforced key policies on tobacco taxation, graphic health warnings, protection of bureaucracy against tobacco industry interference, and smoke-free environments,” he added.

He also said the collective efforts and strengthened partnerships among government agencies, not-government organizations, and stakeholders contributed to these results.

2021 results

Based on the 2021 GATS results, one in every five Filipino adults or 15.1 million adults currently use tobacco, among whom the percentage of males (34.7%) who currently use tobacco was eight times higher than females (4.2%).

This means a drop of 2.2 million smokers from the total of 17.3 million in 2002.

Meanwhile, at least 11.2 million adults currently smoke daily, or about 14.5% of the adult population. The percentage of male smokers who smoke daily (26.3%) is nearly nine times higher than the percentage of women smokers who smoke daily (3.6%).

The average number of cigarettes smoked per day among daily cigarette smokers was 10.5 sticks, with men smoking a daily average of 10.8 sticks and women 6.7 sticks.

The survey said that the overall prevalence of the ever used e-cigarettes among all adults was 5.7%, while the current use of e-cigarettes was 2.1%.

It also showed that one in every five Filipino adults or 22.3% of daily smokers quit smoking in 2021. The proportion of female quitters was significantly higher with 34.2% than those of male with 20.9%.

More than half or 54.5% of those who visited a health care provider and admitted that they smoke tobacco were advised to quit smoking.

Among the reasons cited by smokers for trying to quit smoking are health reasons (77.9%), to save money (68.6%), family (68.1%), high price of cigarettes (68%), anti-smoking policies (37.3%), concerns with COVID-19 (29.1%), and other reasons (3.7%).

Raise taxes on tobacco

According to Maki Pulido’s “24 Oras” report on Tuesday, as the cost of cigarettes increased, the number of smokers went down.

From 17.3 million adult smokers in 2009, when a box of cigarette cost P30, the number dipped to 15.9 million smokers as prices rose to P60 per box. In 2021, with cigarettes at P100 per box, the number of smokers has gone down to 15.1 million.

The number of adult smokers who wanted to quit due to rising prices of cigarettes also increased from 55.6% in 2015 to 68% in 2021.

“Kukulangin sa budget, mauuwi lang yung kikitain ko sa sigarilyo. Bibili pa ako ng bigas [at] ulam, matumal pa. Wala na, puro utang na lang,” said former smoker Reynaldo Cabarrubias.

According to the DOH, over 100,000 Filipinos die due to diseases caused by smoking every year.

At least P200 billion per year were spent to fund the medication and programs for these diseases.

Health experts also called for another law to increase taxes on cigarettes.

“If you look at the TRAIN law, ang pinaka-end ng kanyang increase is at around P60 which will be implementable by 2023. Next year po ‘yun. And after that wala na po, and that is why this is really the correct time to push for another legislation that will increase further the tax,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, immediate past president of Philippine College of Physicians.

Roque hopes for the continued imposition of progressive tax measures on tobacco, vapor, and heated tobacco products by using an inflation rate-based tax index.

“Support measures that will impose excise taxes on novel tobacco products as well as the delivery devices of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products,” he said.

He also said that there is a need to amend the national legislation to prohibit smoking and vaping within enclosed public spaces as well as any space frequented by the youth.

Roque then called to strengthen and institutionalize a comprehensive national treatment program for tobacco and vape dependence.

Meanwhile, Wilma S. Guillen, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Assistant National Statistician, said GATS is a standardized global survey for systematically monitoring adult tobacco and tracking key tobacco control indicators.

She said it is a nationally representative household survey of men and women adults aged 15 and above, using consistent and standard protocol across countries, including the Philippines.

“GATS enhances [the] country’s capacity to plan, implement, and evaluate tobacco control programs. It will also assist countries to fulfill  their obligations under the World Health Organization framework convention on tobacco control to generate comparable data within and across countries,” she said.

Guillen said at least 20,671 households for the whole country were selected in the 2021 GATS. She said each sample household was visited and household members were listed.

The fieldwork for 2021 GATS was conducted in coordination with the regional and provincial offices boards of PSA.

The GATS field operation was scheduled for a 28-day collection period from November 3 to December 4, 2021, in an oversample of five selected cities which are Baguio City, Quezon City, General Santos City, Cebu City, and Zamboanga City. — BM, GMA Integrated News

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