Ex-smoker dreams of smoke-free metropolisBy Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Ten years after doctors removed his cancerous vocal chords, electrical engineer and former radio broadcaster Emerito Rojas, 54, has found himself in the midst of a campaign to end the menace of cigarette smoking in Metro Manila.
Using a battery-operated device (called an electrolarynx), which is placed below his jaw and allows him to speak, Rojas—a heavy smoker for years—now speaks about the perils of tobacco use.
He has been using the device since 2003, a year after his vocal chords were removed.
“We should continue to fight against this habit which doesn’t bring any good to people,” Rojas said in a voice that sounded more like it was coming from a robot.
Clinic on a bus
Enlisting the cancer survivor to dramatize its campaign for a smoke-free metropolis, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) on Monday launched a mobile smoking cessation clinic that plans to go around town to urge smokers to kick the habit.
The counseling clinic is actually a refurbished MMDA bus, which MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino set off rolling on its way to Cubao, Quezon City, its first stop.
Rojas was among those who spoke at the launch.
According to Tolentino, the MMDA’s antismoking effort complements a similar campaign against smoking being promoted by the controversial “sin tax” bill (House Bill No. 5727), which is pending in Congress. The bill would impose additional tariffs on tobacco and alcohol products.
The House of Representatives has passed the bill and debates on the measure may begin in the Senate when session opens next month.
Tolentino told reporters the twin moves by lawmakers and the MMDA would help curb diseases related to smoking.
Going through the counseling session, which lasts about 20 minutes, could be a smoker’s starting point toward withdrawal from tobacco use, Tolentino said.
Therapists help in the lecture by presenting images of a smoker’s damaged lungs and a list of diseases caused by smoking.
Since the MMDA initiated its antismoking campaign last year, at least 32,000 people have been arrested. Some of them chose to pay a P500 fine, others preferred to attend MMDA counseling seminars.
Aside from the MMDA, the local governments of Pasig, Makati, Parañaque, Pateros and Marikina cities have set up their own antismoking clinics.
In October 2011, a Mandaluyong City court issued a preliminary injunction against the MMDA campaign following a complaint from two security guards who were caught smoking on a Cubao sidewalk by MMDA environment enforcers.
While the injunction stopped the MMDA from accosting smokers along pedestrian walkways and roads, “it doesn’t prevent us from having (smoking) cessation clinics,” Tolentino pointed out.
“That’s why we are continuing to pursue this. We have begun intensifying our campaign with the help of local health offices. I am hoping that by the year’s end, all 17 local government units will have their cessation clinics,” he said.
And MMDA enforcers continue to hunt for incorrigible smokers around schools, churches and hospitals and at public parks, passenger terminals and even on public vehicles—which are not covered by the court injunction—following an agreement with public transport regulators, Tolentino said.
2 packs a day
Rojas’ son Einstein, who accompanied him to the seminar, told the Inquirer that his father took it upon himself to campaign against tobacco use after he recovered from a laryngectomy in 2002.
The medical procedure, in which a patient’s larynx—or so-called voice box—is removed, impairs one’s ability to speak.
Einstein said his father used to depend much on his voice since he spoke about his profession as an electrical engineer when he was still broadcasting on radio.
Rojas was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day on the average for about 25 years until he was diagnosed with Stage 4 laryngeal cancer, his son said. His voice box had to be removed to increase his chances of surviving.
“When he regained his speech using an electrolarynx, he took it upon himself to campaign against tobacco use,” said Einstein.
Rojas heads the New Vois Association of the Philippines, a tobacco control advocacy group. It is composed mainly of throat cancer victims or people without vocal cords but who are still able to speak using “alternative means,” according to its Facebook page.
The group’s members also include people with other disabilities.