Press Release— Action for Economic Reforms— April 23, 2012


THE PUFF that kills not only imperils a new generation of smokers. According to health specialists, recent medical studies have confirmed that the hazards of environmental tobacco smoke may even be more lethal and far-reaching than has normally been recognized.

“In just the last few years, doctors around the world have become extremely concerned with the phenomenon of third-hand smoke,” said Dr. Imelda Mateo of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians (PCCP). “It turns out that this kind of smoke can be just as, if not even more threatening to public health than the inhalation of second-hand cigarette fumes.”

Mateo— the chair of PCCP’s Council on Health and Air Pollution— defined third-hand smoke as any form of tobacco smoke residue that lingers after a cigarette has been extinguished. These miniscule particulates often lodge permanently on surfaces they settle on, including the bodies and clothing of smokers and their companions.

Unbeknownst to most, however, these very substances have been proven to be equally carcinogenic and damaging to non-smokers as the noxious haze of second-hand smoke. If left unchecked and allowed to concentrate over time, they even threaten to turn chronic smokers into inadvertent vehicles of toxic chemicals, endangering those they come into close contact with.

“What most people don’t know is that the youth, and especially infants, are amongst the most vulnerable to third-hand smoke!” exclaimed Mateo. “The studies show that tobacco toxin exposure is the leading cause of sudden infant death syndrome— and yet tobacco exposure is still mounting among Filipinos, and particularly the youth. This is a situation that we need to address immediately.”

In a recent report by the National Youth Commission, it has been projected that as much as 3 out of 5 young Filipinos may have shared homes with tobacco users in 2011. 4 out of 5, furthermore, may have resided in communities populated with chronic smokers.

Not surprisingly, non-communicable diseases associated with tobacco use and exposure have become leading drivers of mortality among Filipinos, and increasingly so amongst the young. By 2007, seven of the ten primary causes of death among Filipinos owed to tobacco-related NCD’s.

“A health crisis is already materializing before our very eyes,” pressed Dr. Anthony Leachon, a DOH consultant on non-communicable diseases (NCD’s). “Unless our lawmakers recognize this and support swift actions like the Abaya sin tax bill, the levels of premature deaths and disability will continue to escalate among our youth. The lives of millions of young Filipinos are at risk.”

Already, Leachon argued, the health hazards of unbridled tobacco use and exposure have contributed to a perilous upsurge of NCD’s among young and recently-employed Filipinos. Whereas NCD’s mainly used to afflict those in their forties and fifties, the past years have witnessed a distressing groundswell of such illnesses among those below 35 years old.

“We’re already being throttled by an epidemic of NCD’s because of the culture of smoking that pervades so many workplaces,” he contended. “This ‘health scare’ is crippling our young workforce, and barring development when it is needed most. Those who say that we can improve our nation’s quality-of-life while health is also deteriorating are simply contradicting themselves.”

The signs are clear that a larger health disaster awaits the country if legislators fail to back measures such as the Abaya excise tax restructuring. Anti-reform forces, urged the experts, should seriously reconsider opposing the policy that will prevent a national health crisis from unfolding.