The Philippines has one of the highest youth smokers in Southeast Asia with 45.8 percent of teenagers aged 13 to 15 hooked on cigarettes, according to a study conducted by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control of John Hopkins School for Public Health.
When it comes to the number of adult smokers, the country comes second to Indonesia at 17.3 million.
The study covered six low and middle income countries including China, which showed that 2/3 of children ages 5 to 6 can identify at least one tobacco brand.
Smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. It is estimated that around 250 million people worldwide will die of smoking and that between 80,000 to 100,000 will get addicted to nicotine every day, the study added.
“It is very clear what advertising does to influence children to take up smoking,” Emer Rojas, Global Cancer ambassador and president of NewVois Association of the Philippines, said.
“If children see pictures of cancer victims and other graphic images on the harmful effects of smoking, these may discourage them from initiating smoking and at the same time encourage current smokers to quit,” he added.
The World Health Organization recommends graphic health warnings and higher taxes on tobacco products as the most efficient means to decrease tobacco consumption and deter would-be smokers from taking up the deadly vice.
In the Philippines, the Tobacco Control Act of 2003 prohibits the advertising of cigarettes.
Despite the law, posters of tobacco products proliferate in neighborhood stores where children sent on errands or simply buying their candies or biscuits are exposed to such suggestive materials.
Aside from posters displayed in sari-sari stores, some retail establishments have their signage made by tobacco companies that also bear the name of their products. These displays, according to Rojas, send a strong signal that influence children to take up smoking at a very early age.
In 2010, the Department of Health ordered the placement of picture-based warnings on cigarette packs but this has yet to be implemented as tobacco companies challenged the order in the courts.