Press Release – Action for Economic Reforms – 30 July 2012

It’s 7 in the morning.

11-year-old Nico (not his real name) takes his routine walk to the sari-sari store, his pockets clinking with spare change. He asks for the regular number of 5 sticks of cigarettes and pauses. Realizing he has an extra peso, he looks up and adds, “Anim nalang po [Make it 6 sticks instead].”

He walks away with a lit cigarette between his lips.

There are many young children like Nico who can afford to buy cigarettes for themselves as often as every day if they wish. Health experts warn that they are getting younger and younger.

Nico started smoking when he was barely 8 years old. He added that he picked up the habit after watching all 4 of his older brothers and his mother smoke as much as 3 to 6 sticks every day.

His health has also deteriorated, having been hospitalized when he was 8 because of difficulty in breathing. Despite this, neither he nor his family has expressed any resolve in quitting.

“In 2011 alone, it was estimated that as much as 38.2% of the Filipino youth aged 13 to 15 were smokers,” stated Dr. Imelda Mateo of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians (PCCP). “That’s 2 out every 5 young Filipinos.”

“More and more young children are smokers despite the enactment of the Tobacco Regulation Act in 2003 and the 2004 sin tax law,” lamented Dr. Mateo. “All of these attempts to curb smoking have proven to be ineffective.”

“We have one of the lowest-priced cigarettes in Asia, making it easier for the youth to pick up and maintain this dangerous habit. A sin tax reform with significantly higher taxes is needed now more than ever,” she continued.

Dr. Mateo also added that the prevalence of second-hand smoke among the youth is also increasing.

Consider these statistics from the National Youth Commission: 57.8% of the youth live in homes where others smoke in their presence, 67.9% are around others who smoke in places outside their homes, and 56.7% have one or more parents who smoke.

Nico, unfortunately, checks out on all three.

“The bottom line is cigarettes are just too affordable,” declared Dr. Mateo. “If our lawmakers are as committed to the youth as they claim to be, then they should cast all their support behind the administration’s sin tax bill.”