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Cigarettes and boyfriends

Studies show that if a young person hasn’t started smoking by age 18, chances are he or she will not pick up this noxious habit. I come from a family of smokers, with my father and brothers being heavy smokers (more than a pack a day) for most of their lives, but somehow didn’t get hooked on smoking, but not for lack of trying.

In college, I began experimenting with smoking because, so my fellow staffers in the college paper told me, smoking would make me a better writer. Because the movies were full of images of writers enveloped in a cloud of smoke as they tapped away at typewriters, I tried doing the same. But between keeping track of the falling ash, inhaling the nicotine-filled smoke, and pecking away at a typewriter, I found it slow going—and my eyes smarted from the smoke.

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But the main reason I didn’t pick up the habit was that my boyfriend (now my husband) didn’t smoke himself and hated the smell of cigarette smoke and smokers. “I just won’t kiss you anymore if you insist on smoking!” he threatened one day. I quit even before I began.

Not every teenage girl experimenting with smoking and the so-called glamorous life will be blessed with such a boyfriend, however. Chances are, given findings that eight out of 10 Filipinos have taken up smoking at one time in their lives, they will either pick up the habit from their boyfriends or help each other toward an early grave. For those without cigarette-phobic boyfriends, the graphic warning labels proposed for local cigarette brands should prove a literal life-saver.

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LAST year, as one of her final acts in office, outgoing Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral issued Administrative Order 13 requiring pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages. The order required that the pictures, showing the ill-effects of smoking (black lungs, tongue ulcers and other picturesque sights), should cover 30 percent of the front panel and 60 percent of the back panel of each pack.

As I wrote in a previous column, seeing samples of such packages with pictorial health warnings, I not only did not want to smoke, I didn’t even want to touch cigarettes!

Five tobacco companies opposed that Department of Health order by filing lawsuits in different courts, although only two have secured injunction orders limited to Marikina and Malolos.

Early this year, the Supreme Court granted the intervention of five former health secretaries, including Cabral, in a case between the DOH and Mighty Corporation over the validity of AO 13. But further legal hindrances have brought the proceedings to a halt.

One of the ironies of the case is that tobacco companies in the Philippines already produce packaging for tobacco products with pictorial health warnings, although these are meant for foreign markets like Thailand. “Since these companies have the capacity to produce such packaging, do we not deserve the same access to health information as citizens of other countries do?” asks Dr. Cabral.

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THE WORLD Health Organization estimates that 240 Filipinos are dying each day to causes linked to smoking. This makes it an alarming public health crisis. Seven out of the 10 primary causes of death in the country—stroke, cancer, heart attacks, tuberculosis, chronic lower respiratory disease, pneumonia and diseases that occur around childbirth—are tobacco-related diseases.

“We should be worried about how the tobacco industry is targeting the younger population (younger women in particular). Studies show that they are succeeding. This makes for an absolutely pressing reason why we should not waste time in making sure that nothing obstructs the implementation of AO 2010-0013,” said Dr. Jimmy Galvez-Tan, another former health secretary who was one of the five to join in the suit against the tobacco company.

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LAST Tuesday, noted psychologist and National Social Scientist Ma. Lourdes (Honey) Arellano Carandang submitted her counter-affidavit concerning a suit for libel and child abuse filed against her by TV host Willie Revillame. The suit ensued from an episode of a variety show (since re-named) hosted by Revillame that “featured” a young boy seen shedding tears as he was made to dance for the host’s and the studio audience’s amusement.

Dr. Carandang was one of the first to publicly react to the show, and by her act of writing the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to express her shock and indignation, she was subsequently sued for libel along with a number of bloggers and commentators.

In her counter-affidavit, Carandang wrote that as a mental health professional, “it is my duty to give my opinion on these matters, and I stand by my opinion.”

Referring to supporters who accompanied her, Carandang said “these people from different child-rights groups and concerned citizens are here because they believe in me and my crusade against child abuse.

“While I know deep inside that I do not have to dignify these malicious and baseless charges with a response, I understand that the legal process requires me to state for the record that I did not commit any child abuse.”

Indeed, it’s the height of irony that Carandang, who has spoken out for decades against child abuse within and without the family, should now be sued for “this unfounded and malicious charge of child abuse” since, as she noted, “I have dedicated my entire professional career and a good part of my life to the protection of the child and the promotion of their rights and welfare.

“It pains me to suffer the indignity of standing accused for simply doing what is right; for simply trying to uplift our people’s understanding of how children should be properly treated and for standing up for the rights and dignity of a child,” she concluded.

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