Joshua and Gian, aged nine and six, make a meager living scouring mountains of trash for recyclable items to sell. The two hardly make enough money to feed themselves, yet everyday, after spending hours clawing through garbage, the two visit a nearby nearby sari-sari store where they spend their hard-earned money on cigarettes.
In an episode that aired on June 7, the GMA public affairs program “Reporter’s Notebook” tackled the alarming increase in the number of young Filipinos who smoke. According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted by the World Health Organization, the percentage of Filipino teens aged 13 to 15 who smoke rose from 19.6 percent in 2003 to 27.3 percent in 2007. Today, the National Youth Commission estimates the figures to reach as high as 40 percent.
Young people who smoke may pick up the habit at home, experts say. Over half of the students surveyed for the 2007 GYTS reported having family members who smoked at home. Joshua, the nine-year-old boy interviewed for “Reporter’s Notebook” started smoking when he was five because his siblings would send him to the store to buy their cigarettes. “’Pag wala pong mapasindihan, sinisindihan ko po,” says Joshua.
In Southeast Asia, cigarettes are cheapest in the Philippines, where the number of smokers is also highest. It is no surprise, therefore, that seven out of 10 leading causes of mortality among Filipinos are smoking-related. According to the Department of Health, around 240 Filipinos die from smoking-related diseases everyday, while another 500 to 800 fall ill.
These alarming statistics are among the reasons for the filing of House Bill 5727, also known as the Sin Tax Reform Bill. The Sin Tax Reform Bill seeks to increase the price of cigarette products from P11.50 to P23.50 on its first year of implementation. Tobacco products costing P11.50 and above will be sold for P31.80. On June 6, the House of Representatives, despite lobbying from tobacco companies, passed the Palace-backed bill, which now awaits passage in the Senate.
Meanwhile, cigarettes can still be bought per stick at neighborhood stores by curious children whose parents and older siblings continue to puff away.