Latest survey says more Filipino teenagers are smo
- Alfred A. Araya Jr. () - September 4, 2001 - 12:00am
The chances are high that Filipino children, with ages between 11 to 16, have already tried smoking cigarettes.

The probability that a child has already lighted his first stick – or worse, is a full-blown smoker – is even greater when members of his family are smoking, too. And then, of course, there is peer pressure.

A Youth Tobacco Survey by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), Philippine Chapter, among grade school and high school students in Metro Manila has reinforced what many people have been thinking all along about youth and smoking.

The survey of 2,932 respondents with an average age of 13, from twelve elementary and secondary private and public schools in Metro Manila, was conducted by the ACCP after a series of "tobacco or health workshops" in these schools from 1998 to 2001.

The ACCP survey results approximate the findings of an early study made by the health department last June on the same issue as selected secondary schools nationwide, said Dr. Antonio Lopez, an undersecretary at the Department of Health (DOH), one of the panel reactors.

The ACCP survey was presented last Aug. 4 at a forum in Mandaluyong City. Although the audience, composed mostly of parents and medical doctors, appeared troubled by the information, they did not seem surprised by the results. They had heard it all before.

The Youth Tobacco Survey showed that cigarette smoking is "high, and use of other tobacco products is moderately high."

According to the study, majority of the students surveyed started smoking in their early teens. A third of the respondents (29.6 percent) aged 10 to 20 admitted that they have tried smoking. Of these respondents, 18.8 percent are current smokers, with 4.7 percent smoking at least one stick of cigarette per day. Of the current smokers, 62.7 percent are in private schools.

The survey also revealed that the social environment plays a role in the smoking behavior of young people. Peer influence is the primary reason for trying out smoking, and also for going back to smoking after quitting.

There are more family members who smoke in the homes of students who are current smokers.

Dr. Merci Gappi, ACCP member who presented the results, said that one respondent indicated he first smoked at aged four. However, it was found out that he was forced by his uncle to smoke while his parents were not home.

According to Lopez, the DOH survey found that an estimated 42 percent of students have tried smoking cigarettes, with 15 percent admitting to have smoked their first stick before reaching the age of 10. Twenty-two percent, practically the same as the ACCP survey’s 18.8 percent, admitted to being current smokers.

The DOH also found that tobacco exposure in the environment is very high, with over half (60 percent) of parents of the respondents smoking at home. The importance of peer influence also came up, as three out of four students (75 percent) reported that their friends smoke in their presence.

The usual places where the kids smoke are in their own homes, in their friends’ homes, and in schools, Lopez said.

Although both surveys, specifically the ACCP study, indicated "peer influence" as the main culprit of youth smoking, some in the audience, and even the organizers believed that the underlying reason behind it is the extensive advertising campaigns directed at young people mounted by the tobacco companies.

Dr. Daniel Tan, a member of the Tobacco Free Phils., a lobby group in Congress, said that the strategy being used by the tobacco industry is precisely to reinforce the belief that peer pressure — not advertising – is the cause of smoking among the youth.

He warned the audience, "Let us not fall into that trap."

Lopez said that, as far as the health department’s tobacco control intervention campaign is concerned, "a total ban on cigarette advertising is recommended." The audience applauded.

He also strongly recommended increasing the unit price of tobacco products to reduce both the initiation and consumption of tobacco by teenagers. Besides an increase in the price of cigarettes, and community and school-based education programs, Lopez also recommended "mass media education campaigns featuring long-term, high-intensity counter-advertising" to reduce tobacco use initiation.

However, the key still lies in convincing the legislators to enact enforceable laws banning cigarette ads and increasing tobacco prices. But, as Tan pointed out, the anti-smoking lobby has not had much success in the past.

Dr. Abundio Balgos, a member of the ACCP, observed that tobacco companies have come up with "a lot of resistance and efforts" to "bar the promulgation of [tobacco control] laws," asserting that these companies have put in a lot of money in the effort.

No support from government

Another reason why the anti-smoking campaign has come to naught is the perspective taken by some high government officials that tobacco companies provide employment and other economic benefits for Filipino workers.

Even the health department’s Tobacco Control Secretary (TCS) has not scored in its anti-smoking campaigns. According to Dr. Marina Baquilod of the TCS secretariat, the health department has already provided lawmakers the "evidence" to back a "comprehensive anti-smoking bill." However, Congress has still to act on it. CyberDyaryo

A YOUTH TOBACCO SURVEY ACCP AMERICAN COLLEGE OF CHEST PHYSICIANS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LOPEZ METRO MANILA SMOKING SURVEY TOBACCO
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