Stubbing out a costly addiction

WHOEVER SAYS that quitters never win should think twice when it comes to quitting smoking. The 2013 National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHeS) reveals there were 3.2 million fewer Filipinos smoking after the passage of the Sin Tax Law, averting about 32,000 smoking-related deaths and billions worth of economic burden.

In a series of focus group discussions with present and past smokers, it was found that there are not too many reasons for their quitting the stick. For most of them, it was the increased prices which added to their initial plans to quit, made them think twice before buying more expensive cigarettes, and eventually persuaded them to kick the habit altogether. This is most especially true for those with tight pockets. “Panghihinayang” (avoidance of waste) became dominant because the price of even the cheapest brand jumped by 150%, or from 45 centavos per stick in 2012 to P1.20 per stick.

On the aggregate level, the drop in smoking prevalence in 2013 saved Filipinos P21.98 billion for forgoing an estimated consumption of 13 billion sticks for that year. This is calculated by annualizing the average daily consumption of 12 cigarette sticks priced at P1.58 each and multiplying it by the reduction in the smoking population.

This year, another P27.4 billion has been saved by the 3.2 million Filipinos who either stopped or were prevented from starting to smoke. On the average, if one decides to quit smoking or refuses to be a regular smoker, he or she saves an annual cigarette expenditure of P8,500. This amount can supply a Filipino family with more than 50 kilos of rice a month per quarter for a whole year, or up to two years’ worth of tuition fees in a state college.

For the young and the poor, quitting or not starting to smoke results in even bigger benefits. Smoking at an early age puts one at risk of developing a stronger dependence on cigarettes, making it harder for one to stop and, consequently, exposing oneself to a higher chance of acquiring diseases as one ages. The poor, on the other hand, are the most vulnerable to catastrophes and financial shocks when responding to illnesses. By not smoking, the young and the poor have saved their future.

The gains in quitting smoking also extend beyond the smoker. More than savings from foregone cigarette expenses, the smokers who chose to quit spare not only themselves but also countless bystanders from various health risks. Globally, the exposure of people to second-hand smoke alone is said to be responsible for about 600,000 deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

While smoking is the number one preventable cause of death, the list of smoking hazards is endless. This includes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), coronary artery diseases, and cerebro-vascular diseases. These hazards have embroiled countries in expensive health-care costs, productivity losses, and premature death losses each year. In 2011, the economic burden of only the top four smoking-related diseases in the Philippines stood at P188 billion. This estimate does not even take into account the social costs of smoking-induced illness and death to present and future generations.

The famous General Douglas MacArthur was not always right when he said quitting wrinkles the soul. Quitting, in this context, does exactly the opposite. Freeing yourself from the smoking habit subsequently frees you from incurring unnecessary costs and heartaches.

Certainly, increasing sin taxes on cigarettes has once again proven itself as an extremely effective intervention in reducing smoking prevalence and consumption. Challenges, however, remain. Because of the extremely addictive nature of nicotine and the active marketing of cigarette companies, escaping from the chains of one’s smoking habit is more of a marathon rather than a sprint.

There is no doubt, however, that strengthening health reforms such as the Sin Tax Law will make smokers who quit into healthy winners.

Madeiline Joy Aloria is a graduate of the University of the Philippines School of Economics and currently a Research Associate of Action for Economic Reforms.

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