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04:25 AM August 8th, 2011

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By: Floriño A. Francisco, August 8th, 2011 04:25 AM

While I was a postgraduate fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston in the late ’60s, I came across an unforgettable article in the Christian Herald, “What the cigarette commercials don’t show,” in which Hugh Mooney, the author, wrote: “In cigarette country, TV commercials show two or three handsome, rugged cowboys on beautiful horses. Or there are sports cars, planes or scuba gears. The scene is always one of clean, windswept health. The people have a look of supreme confidence; the lovely girls, all smiles. I know another country. It is a land from which few return. In this sad region, there are no strong men, no smiling pretty girls. Executives and store clerks there look very much alike, not only because people living on the raw edge of a thin hope somehow get the same haunted expression on their faces. I am referring to cancer country. I have been there.”

Mooney continued, “Young people today are great believers in realism. It might be interesting, therefore, if some advertising agencies were to do a cigarette commercial featuring a patient who has lost his throat (because of) smoking. The camera might pan around the cancer ward, showing all of us who still have a complete mouth to put a cigarette into. They might even show the one total addict who smoked by holding his cigarette in the hole that led into his windpipe, through which he breathed air into his lungs. We don’t ride horses or helicopters or sports cars in cancer country. We ride wheeled tables to the operating rooms and we’re lucky if we ride them back…”

After its publication in 1968, this article generated so much public concern in America about the perils of cigarette smoking. It was about this time that the US Surgeon General’s warning—“Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Diseases, Emphysema and May Complicate Pregnancy”—was ordered printed on every label of each pack of cigarette for sale in America. All tobacco manufacturers were ordered to comply with US laws on print and TV ads that educate and warn Americans on the perils of smoking.

It is quite disheartening to note that more than 40 years after the warnings on cigarette labels were implemented, the World Health Organization reported recently that tobacco continues to be a leading global killer with nearly 5 million deaths a year. It is said that tobacco-related diseases claim one life every six and a half seconds, and the annual death toll is expected to double to 10 million by 2020, with most victims in developing countries like the Philippines.

Why so? It is because Western cigarette companies have since then found developing countries as the ripe (and willing) markets to compensate for dwindling sales at home. It must also be noted that their sophisticated advertising campaigns during the last two decades have been attracting more and more of our impressionable young people in their teens to smoke.

This, certainly, is no laughing matter and should merit the attention not only of our health authorities and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) but also President Aquino.

Just a year ago, 168 governments finalized a tobacco control treaty in Geneva, the first-ever global accord which advocates the banning of tobacco advertising and sponsorship as well as sales to minors.

There is now a militant global advocacy against smoking. And it is now considered in many countries as socially unacceptable because it affects not only the smokers but also the non-smokers inhaling the smoky air. It was in the face of such realities that the WHO passed a resolution which specified that “Passive smoking violates the right to health of non-smokers who must be protected against this noxious form of environmental pollution.”

We, in the medical profession, highly commend the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority for strictly enforcing the Tobacco Control Act (Republic Act 9211) in Metro Manila. The MMDA Anti-Smoking Campaign should have the wholehearted support of the health department and the PMA. And it is hoped that this campaign will be replicated all over the country, soonest.

Floriño A. Francisco, MD, a Cabanatuan-based pediatrician, is the recipient of the 2010 TOPICS Award (The Outstanding Filipino Physician in Community Service).

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