The ‘Smoking Dead’: ‘Zombies’ remind public of 240 tobacco-related Filipino deaths daily

The “Smoking Dead”. These MMDA street sweepers were made up to look like zombies on World No Tobacco Day 2016, reminding pedestrians of the 240 Filipinos who die every day of smoking-related diseases. Photo from the Facebook page of HealthJustice Philippines.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA – Zombies staggered along the streets of Metro Manila on Tuesday, World No Tobacco Day 2016, in an attempt to make Filipinos aware of the dangers of tobacco use – something that could turn them into the “Smoking Dead”.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and public health think tank HealthJustice teamed up for the activity and fielded 240 MMDA environmental enforcers and street sweepers, their faces made up to look like the undead, in selected MRT stations and along EDSA.

According to Dr. Loida Alzona, MMDA Health, Public Safety and Environmental Protection Office director III, the number represents the 240 Filipinos who die every day because of tobacco-related diseases.

She told in a phone interview the environmental enforcers also gave out flyers about the Graphic Health Warnings (GHW) Law, implementation of which began in March this year, though tobacco companies have six months to comply. By November, all cigarette packs must have pictorial warnings of the dangers of smoking, and not just text.

The Department of Health, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), Framework Convention of Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), and Vital Strategies are also part of the activity.

Alzona said it was in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advocacy for World No Tobacco Day 2016, urging the use of plain packaging as a tobacco control measure.

WHO exhorts governments

In a press release, WHO in the Western Pacific called on governments and civil society to support the implementation of the use of plain packaging. This means the pack will contain no logos, colors, brand images, or promotional information; will have graphic health warnings; will use a standard color for its surface; and will use a standard color and font for brand and product names.

WHO in the Western Pacific said plain packaging will “reduce attractiveness of tobacco packaging; eliminate tobacco advertising and promotion; limit deceptive tobacco packaging; and increase effectiveness of tobacco health warnings.”

Australia is a pioneer in plain packaging, being the first country to enact it into law. Since December 2012, all tobacco products had to be sold in “drab dark brown packaging with large graphic health warnings that depict the health consequences of smoking, without logos or other advertising or promotion features,” WHO in the Western Pacific said.

“This example can be followed to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers. International solidarity is therefore vital to overcome the challenges of tobacco and reverse its dreadful effects,” WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Shin Young-soo said.

One out of three smokers in the world lives in the Western Pacific. Half of the men in the region – which covers the Philippines – smoke, with nearly half of children regularly exposed to deadly second-hand smoke, WHO in the Western Pacific said.

Youth join in observance

Meanwhile, the pro-health, youth-led coalition National Youth for Sin Tax Movement (NYFSTM) also celebrated World No Tobacco Day 2016, with more than 100 student and youth organizations joining in.

To support the plain packaging advocacy, NYFSTM disseminated posters with the tagline, “Masakit Sa Mata Ang Katotohanan, Gaano Man Kaganda Ang Pinaglalagyan (The truth is painful to see, no matter how beautifully it’s packaged)”. In a press release, NYFSTM said this was in response to tobacco companies’ “creative marketing campaigns” used to “lure” their customers.

“Targeting a leading preventable cause of death such as tobacco has always been a continuing struggle for health practitioners,” said Johna Mandac, a co-convener from the Asian Medical Students’ Association. She added that medical students like her see “countless patients” suffering from smoking-related diseases.

She said the fight for the proper implementation of laws on tobacco control continues, and that more public health policies must be pushed.

“The youth has a comparative advantage in utilizing social media, a platform that reaches a big portion of the population, to further its advocacies,” NYFSTM media coordinator Jay Yparraguirre said.

AER: sin tax boosted health budget

With Action for Economic Reforms (AER) and FCAP, NYFSTM issued another statement lauding the passage of anti-tobacco laws, Sin Tax and Graphic Health Warning in Cigarette Packs during the term of President Benigno Aquino III.

According to AER senior economist Jo-ann Diosana, additional revenues for the government brought an unprecedented increase in the national budget for health from only P57 billion in 2012 to P123 billion in 2016.

“The sin tax law did not only bring revenues that funded public services, it was also proven to have curbed tobacco consumption. The benefits of the law demolished the arguments of the tobacco industry against the increase in cigarette excise tax, thus, the reforms should continue and replicated in the future,” she said.

FCAP executive director Dr. Maricar Limpin cited the 2015 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) findings showing the number of smokers among those aged 20 years and below dropped significantly from 9.1 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent in 2015.

The smoking prevalence among Filipino adults drastically decreased from 31 percent in 2008 to 23.3 percent in 2015, she also noted.

“This will signify four million less Filipino smokers and 700,000 deaths averted because they were discouraged from getting started with the fatal smoking addiction,” she said.

The groups called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, whose tough anti-smoking campaign in Davao has drawn praise, to “sustain the gains of these laws and save more lives from tobacco-related diseases.”