Healthcare expert says gov’t support crucial in curbing tobacco use

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    A prominent Filipino physician has underscored the relevance of state intervention in curbing the incidence of smoking in the country, hinting that existing policies including scare tactics and high excise taxes on tobacco products appeared to have fallen short of expectations.

    Dr. Lorenzo Mata, a veteran family health doctor and medical consultant, cited a declaration and research of the two UK-based organizations which he believed could help guide Philippine policymakers in formulating sound policies meant to enable Filipino smokers to gain access to less harmful smoking alternatives, while at the same time upholding the quality and integrity of public health for Filipinos.

    Mata was specifically referring to a report of the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a UK-based public health charity that declared that government support is crucial in helping smokers quit.

    The doctor also mentioned the report by the Cancer Research UK, a private cancer research and awareness charity, which revealed that close to 140,000 cancer cases in England could have been prevented through support from the National Health Service. Some 54,000 of these cases resulted from cigarette smoking.

    Currently, the Philippines has some 16 million adult smokers that are at risk of developing lung and throat cancer, among other tobacco-related diseases. It is estimated that 10 Filipinos die every hour due to illnesses caused by cigarette use.

    “The Philippine government is not helping address the local tobacco epidemic by increasing taxes on viable and less harmful smoking alternatives such as ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems). Instead, they are, perhaps inadvertently, forcing smokers to go back to the use of combustible cigarettes. The implementation of increased taxation policies may discourage many Filipinos who wish to quit smoking, but are not always able to do so through prescribed methods like nicotine replacement therapies, or going cold turkey,” Mata explained.

    Moreover, Dr. Mata pointed out that the appropriate regulation of ENDS, based on its harm reduction potential, may even result in increased funds for the Philippines’ Universal Healthcare Act, with the decrease in the number of people suffering from tobacco-related illnesses and the costs incurred on their treatment.

    “As it is, the government incurs around P188 billion annually in healthcare expenses and productivity losses due to cigarette smoking. Instead of implementing steep taxes on ENDS, and imposing regulations on the sale and distribution of these products, the government should seriously consider the growing body of sound scientific evidence on the harm-reduction potential of ENDS,” Mata said.

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