For publicly declaring that he is not yet ready to quit smoking, apparent president-elect Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd is as a bad role model to young people in the Philippines, a health officer of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
“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,” said Dr. Susan Mercado, the regional adviser for the Tobacco-Free Initiative of the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.
Mercado, who completed her training as a tobacco dependence treatment specialist with the famed Mayo Clinic in the United States, made the statement a few days before the observance of World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
“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 said.
Health groups have called on Aquino to quit smoking.
But on Monday he said he is not t ready to kick the habit because of the various pressures of becoming the country’s next president.
His refusal to quite smoking, Mercado said, is not something that young Filipinos must imitate.
She added Aquino might just be representing a portion of the population whose health has not been spared by tobacco use and exposure to cigarette smoke.
“The Aquino family was not spared from this—[Sen.] Ninoy Aquino suffered a heart attack. [Former President] Cory [Corazon] Aquino had colorectal cancer. Both of these conditions have been linked to cigarette smoke exposure,” Mercado said.
Filipinos hard hit
Based on the Global Adult Tobacco Survey in 2009, 49 percent of Filipinos report that smoking is allowed inside their homes. More than 50 percent of youth 13 to 15 years old also report that they are exposed to cigarette smoke at home daily.
“Filipinos endure multiple daily exposures to tobacco smoke in public transportation, restaurants, malls and even health facilities,” Mercado said, adding that smoking kills 10 Filipinos every hour.
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 the government’s responsibility and mandate to control tobacco use.
Mercado said that there is a huge unfinished agenda for the Philippine government to comply with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
“This agenda includes raising prices and taxes of cigarettes, requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, strictly enforcing 100-percent ban on indoor smoking in public places, preventing single cigarette stick sale, banning point of sale advertising, preventing the influence and lobby of the tobacco industry in policy-making, legislation and enforcement, protecting all citizens from exposure to second hand smoke and last but not least, ensuring that every smoker, like Sen. Noynoy Aquino has scientific information, the best available services and respect for a patient’s right to privacy,” she added.
The WHO also on Thursday called on countries to protect women and girls from efforts by the tobacco industry to induce them to start smoking.
Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, warned that smoking and chewing of tobacco among females is increasing in Asia and the Pacific.
It is estimated that more than 8 percent of girls between 13 and 15 years of age, or around 4.5 million girls, are using tobacco products.
“Starting early results in addiction that later translates to a life of nicotine dependence, poor health and premature death,” he said.
Shin added that comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are needed to protect women and girls from deceptive messages that portray smoking as glamorous or fashionable.
Worldwide, of the more than 600,000 deaths caused every year by second hand smoke, 64 percent occur among women.
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