MANILA, Philippines--THOUGH SCIENCE HAS PROVEN that cigarette smoking kills, many people are unable to kick the habit.
It has been found that nicotine is addicting. Dr. Lynn T. Kozlowski, an addiction expert at Pennsylvania State University, said addiction could generally be defined as ?the repeated use of a psychoactive drug which is difficult to stop.?
Two indications of addiction are giving up other things for cigarettes and continued use despite knowledge of harm to oneself and others.
Ramon Tan, founder of Carica Herbal Health Products Inc. thinks herbal cigarettes may be the solution.
Tan is the maker of the herbal cigarette brands Stop-a-Habit and Herbala sold in Carica?s main store in Makati City and other outlets nationwide.
He said the products are made from a blend of 36 herbal plants from the Philippines, India, Africa, China and South America.
?They have been analyzed and certified by the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory to be free of nicotine and other addicting substances such as marijuana, opium, cocaine and heroin,? he added.
Tan began developing the herbal cigarette in 1998 in consultation with some Russian and Italian scientists from the University of Moscow.
He also gives free seminars on herbal cigarette-making in his Makati City office. ?People can make money from making herbal cigarettes. There are about 200 herbal plants in the country just waiting to be explored,? he said.
According to Tan, apart from reducing and eliminating addiction to tobacco products, herbal cigarettes can also induce restful sleep and relieve gastric discomfort and a sore throat.
?But herbal cigarettes are not meant to replace tobacco products,? he pointed out. ?They are to be used only temporarily as a means to give up smoking completely. ?
Tan himself used to be a heavy smoker until a relative died after suffering a stroke which is associated with smoking.
He thought of nicotine-free cigarettes made from dried leaves of pomelo, tanglad, talumpunay, pandan, cacao and alagao.
Tan said he got the idea from stories of Filipinos making cigarettes out of dried papaya leaves when Japanese forces occupied the country.
?While giving up smoking, I needed something to hold on to during that trying period,? he said. ?I inhaled air through herbal sticks and handled these like my regular brand, which gave me the tangible satisfaction of holding a cigarette and smoking it.?
He explained that herbal smoke could eliminate the taste for cigarettes, making it possible to quit smoking. After a few weeks, a smoker should have dropped the habit for good, he added.
Health specialists also do not recommend herbal cigarettes as a long-term alternative to tobacco due to the dangers posed by smoke inhalation.
The Academy Health in Canada warned in its Health Canada website that although some herbal cigarettes do not have nicotine, they still produce tar and carbon monoxide when burned and inhaled.
?It?s also important to know that some herbal cigarettes are blended with tobacco, particularly those manufactured in China,? it said.
Academy Health has been tracking the use and sales of herbal cigarettes in Canada to determine their safety, efficacy, quality, level of use and changes over time.
In the United States, herbal cigarettes have been around since 1997 and sales are increasing, the Washington Times reported. ?Instead of tobacco and nicotine, the cigarettes contain catnip, wild lettuce, damiana, passion flower and marshmallow.?
Dr. Anne O?Donnell, associate professor and chief of pulmonary critical care at Georgetown University Hospital, expressed concern that youngsters might use herbal cigarettes as a stepping stone to tobacco.
The latest Global Youth Tobacco Survey initiated by the World Health Organization revealed that in the Philippines, four out of 10 students aged 13 to 15 years old smoked.
Their reasons for smoking were peer pressure, the perception that smoking was ?cool,? easy access to tobacco products and the influence of parents who smoked.
About 88 percent of young smokers, however, wanted to quit the habit and even supported the ban on smoking in public places, the report said.
Another WHO survey said the country had the highest rate of female smokers among young adults and adults in the Asia-Pacific region.
Filipino women reportedly turned to smoking as ?a substitute for expressing feelings,? particularly anger and unhappiness. A cigarette served as a crutch in a stressful situation, the survey pointed out.
Most female smokers in urban areas think smoking can be an image-booster, a symbol of glamour, emancipation and power.
Call center environments and culture also contribute to the rising rates of smoking. High levels of stress, fatigue, loss of appetite and irregular or disturbed sleep encourage smoking.
Health Promotion International, a journal published in association with WHO, said among the country?s smoking adult population, more men than women tried quitting.
Of the country?s 85 million people, 50 percent of men and 12 percent of women smoke cigarettes, according to a report from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance of the Philippines.
?The genie of tobacco shows no signs of disappearing overnight in a puff of smoke. With more deaths to its name than all the illicit narcotics put together, there can be no doubt that tobacco is the most dangerous drug in the world,? Richard Rudgley wrote in The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances.
Thus, Tan appeals to smokers to kick the habit by using an herbal preparation instead.