Cancer survivors push law on health promotion

MANILA – Cancer survivors on Sunday appealed for a health promotion bill that will improve Filipinos’ level of awareness on healthy lifestyles including the harmful effects of smoking.

The New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) made the appeal as political candidates consider their platform for the 2016 national elections.

NVAP President Emer Rojas said a bill supporting health promotion may be financed through revenues from sin tax.

“As we are heading towards unitary sin tax by next year, we have to take advantage of the full benefits of the tobacco levy by increasing capacity to raise the people’s awareness on healthy lifestyles,” said Rojas. “The increase in taxes imposed on the tobacco industry must be used on education and awareness-raising so as to reduce if not to prevent the rise in non-communicable diseases.”

Rojas, a laryngeal cancer survivor, said a health promotion law would help ensure that policies and measures are in place to protect public health especially from the different types of cancer caused by smoking.

He said poor Filipinos would mostly benefit from the law, since tobacco consumption is higher among the country’s lower socio-economic class compared to the developed countries.

A survey by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies in 2012, the same year that the sin tax was made into law, placed the prevalence of smoking in the country among the poorest of the poor at 40 percent, while only 25% of smokers were considered affluent.

About 36% of smokers were identified to belong to the second lowest economic quintile.

“This means that 76% of the country’s 17.3 million smokers were poor and the market that drives tobacco companies’ profits to the roof. But the poor were also the ones that carry the most burden of smoking’s harmful effects and do not have the means for treatment.

“While the government’s universal healthcare program benefits from the sin tax revenues and have made great progress since then, we believe that health promotion should also be supported by the levy,” Rojas said.

He noted that a law on health promotion would also address the issue of cancer and lifestyle diseases.

The University of the Philippines College of Medicine estimated that half of the country’s annual 300,000 deaths are due to non-communicable diseases.

A total of P188 billion is also being lost every year from the top four killers of Filipinos (lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, and stroke), which are all smoking-related.

“Perhaps those who are now contemplating on running for government posts next year should also stop and take time to consider what is best for the people’s health.

“We have long looked at smoking as a natural thing that people do when other nations saw the bigger picture – how it kills tobacco users and non-users, its effects on a country’s economy, and how it encourages a culture of diseases and death,” said Rojas.