Reductions in Tobacco Use Will Save Lives in the Philippines

March 20, 2017

(March 20th, 2017, Manila, the Philippines and New York, USA): Global health non-profit organization Vital Strategies today congratulated the Philippines’ government on reductions in smoking prevalence and levels of exposure to second-hand smoke, revealed in the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), Philippines, 2015.

“This GATS report proves that policies including smokefree laws, increasing taxes on tobacco, and educating Filipinos about the harms of tobacco have helped to deliver a 19.9 percent relative decline in the prevalence of tobacco use. This is a tremendous achievement: good news for the health of Filipinos and sure to save thousands of lives in the coming years,” said Vital Strategies’ President and CEO José Luis Castro.

The report also shows that there is still work to do: over 40 percent of adult males still use tobacco. And while there have been reductions in exposure to second-hand smoke in the home and in government buildings, 86.3 percent of adults still report being exposed to tobacco smoke when visiting bars and nightclubs. More than a third still report being exposed to second-hand smoke on public transport.

“Second-hand smoke represents a risk for customers and workers, which could be eliminated with the strong implementation of a national 100 percent smokefree law. We encourage President Duterte to sign the Executive Order to pass such a law and protect the health of the ever-increasing majority of Filipinos who don’t smoke,” continued Mr. Castro.

According to the report, more than three-quarters of smokers are thinking about or planning to quit smoking, but only 4 percent have been successful in doing so in the past year. This suggests that further reductions in smoking prevalence could be delivered through investment in cessation support and policies that encourage quitting - like high tobacco taxes and prices and a national 100 percent smokefree law. Health warnings on cigarette packaging prompted 44.6 percent of smokers to think about quitting and 63.7 percent of adults noticed anti-tobacco information on TV. Vital Strategies has supported mass media campaigns in the Philippines, such as “Cigarettes are Eating You Alive” and “Cigarettes Are Eating Your Baby Alive,” to warn people about the harms of tobacco.

“Graphic health warnings have prompted more than 44 percent of smokers to think about quitting and over 60 percent recall seeing anti-tobacco messages on TV. This confirms our position that strong, graphic messages are highly effective in changing knowledge and intentions – but more needs to be done to help smokers translate that knowledge and intention into quitting smoking, and staying quit. With a comprehensive approach to tobacco control – adopting best practice to fully implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - the Philippines can further reduce tobacco use and save thousands of lives. Vital Strategies looks forward to continuing to work with government to draw upon tobacco control best practices to curb the number 1 preventable killer of Filipinos – tobacco use,” concluded Mr. Castro.

Note to Editors

Recent progress in tobacco control

Since the GATS Philippines report in 2009, there has been progress in regional and national tobacco control:

  • The Department of Health (DoH) developed the National Tobacco Control Strategy (2011-2016) and established partnerships with government agencies and civil society to accelerate implementation of the WHO FCTC
  • The SinTax Reform Law of 2012 has increased the tax on tobacco products
  • The DoH has implemented communications campaigns to warn Filipinos about the harms of tobacco, using broadcast media, billboards, posters and other media
  • The DoH’s Red Orchid Awards for 100% Tobacco Free Environments encouraged a number of local governments to implement 100 percent smokefree laws
  • Smokefree policies were implemented in a number of government buildings and grounds including hospitals, health centers, schools and universities, colleges and other public places and
  • The DoH has worked with local government to implement a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The Burden of Tobacco Use in the Philippines

The Department of Health (DOH) has identified tobacco as the primary risk factor in the Philippines for a range of non-communicable diseases. Health harms caused by tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke cost the Philippines’ economy more than USD3.95 billion (Php188 billion) (Dans et al., 2012) in health care costs and productivity losses. 

The Tobacco Atlas notes that tobacco causes 19.6 percent of adult male deaths and 9.4 percent of adult female deaths – higher than the average in other middle-income countries. It is estimated that more than 71,850 Filipinos - eight people every hour - are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year. The Philippine Cancer Society estimates that around 3,000 non-smoking adult Filipinos die every year of lung cancer as a result of inhaling second-hand smoke.

The Philippines 2011 Global Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than two in five 13-15 year olds are exposed to SHS at home and nearly three in five are exposed to SHS outside the home. According to The Tobacco Atlas, SHS increases the risks of contracting lung cancer by 30 percent (small cell lung cancer by 300 percent) and coronary heart disease by 25 percent. Exposure to SHS killed more than 600,000 non-smokers globally in 2010.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org