Yellow Pad


Ever since I can remember, Tatay smoked continuously, consuming 3-4 packs per day. Even before I started medical practice, he was already diagnosed with lung cancer. But he finally died of chronic lung disease.

Through the years before his death, he was constantly short of breath and coughing most of the time. Eventually he needed oxygen. He would tell me, Bakit ang tagal naman nito? All his closest friends passed away also because of smoking-related conditions!

If we had high tobacco tax before, maybe he would still be alive today. I don’t know. But what I know now for sure is that there is strong evidence that tobacco tax can prevent smoking. To fight for tobacco tax is to prevent others from suffering the same fate as my Tatay. Dear Senator Angara, please make sure the entire Senate is with us in this fight! Include tobacco tax in the tax reform. For the health of Filipinos, specially our children.

The next time someone tells you smoking is a choice, know that it is NOT. Addiction to nicotine is NOT a choice. Health-related lifestyle, far from being a choice, is a reaction to the environment we build around us.

Medical science now accepts this truth. The reason people don’t exercise enough is because there is not enough space for exercise. We ride to work because it’s unsafe to walk or bike. We eat unhealthy food because advertisements targeted us when we were kids. We smoke — because it is glamorized, and because tobacco here is one of the cheapest in the world.

My Dad was an amazing man. He taught us discipline, integrity, love for God and love for country — not by words, but by example. When I was young, I thought his greatest fault was that he was a heavy smoker, and all his kids were exposed to this habit.

He had a stroke at 67, and died of lung cancer when he was 69 years old. Both are considered self-inflicted tobacco-related diseases. But now I understand. He was a victim, not a perpetrator. Smoking was not his fault.

Dad, this fight against tobacco is for you. Smoking is not a choice, increasing tobacco tax IS.

* * * * *

Dinky was the eldest girl in our family of 6 girls and 4 boys. She was tall and strikingly pretty, but very soft-spoken and unassuming. When I think of her, I remember her dimpled smile, and a soundless laughter that many of us found hilarious.

Externally, Dinky seemed weak and awkward. We had lots of fun calling her lampa when we were kids. But in her short life, she faced one intense crisis after another, handling them with more strength and grace than any of us could have.

Unfortunately, she was a heavy smoker. I diagnosed her to have lung cancer in 2003 at the age of 53. Months later, I watched her in death throes and agonal breathing, as she slowly died in the arms of her husband and 3 kids. I never cried in public then, but by myself, I never cried so hard. Today, I badly miss her quiet presence.

As a doctor, I now understand how this happened.

Tobacco kidnapped my sister when she was a young teenager, and tobacco eventually murdered her. While we can never get her back, I can promise to do my best as a Health Warrior — to make sure others don’t suffer the way she did.

I was only 23 when my mom passed away.

My eldest son Joaquin doesn’t remember his Lola Dinky anymore; only in pictures. He was 3 years old when she passed away. My mom didn’t get to meet my youngest son Izaac. She didn’t get to see me walk down the aisle when Jonas and I finally got married.

My mom taught me that it was OK to be silly and to laugh at your blooper moments (because she had a lot of that).

I remember singing, dancing, and laughing our hearts out around the house to the most inappropriate songs like “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow. Whenever she was done with her Art Exhibit, we would go out on a date at Ali Mall. We shopped, and we dined at Shakey’s, ordering our “Bunch of Lunch” and milk shake.

That was our happy place: dance, sing, eat and laugh our hearts out.

Now she’s gone to heaven. At the age of 53 my mom died of lung cancer. This 13 November will be her 11th death anniversary. And I miss her like crazy.

Please don’t let this happen to others. It is very hard to grow up in this world without a mother. There’s no one to give you advice when you need it the most. No warm hugs on the days you just want to curl up and cry your eyes out. Getting these from others is not the same. The maternal bond is not there. No one should lose their parents like this.

The government must help people stop smoking.


Leonida Dans and Antonio Dans, wife and husband, are both doctors of medicine and academicians. Their niece, Patricia Hernandez, is a restaurateur. Their personal stories, also addressed to Senator Sonny Angara and other senators, are part of a collection of narratives regarding the ill effects of smoking and the need to increase the tobacco tax to prevent smoking. For the collection of stories, visit #DearAngara on Facebook.