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National Youth Commission alarmed by spread of smoking among teens

MANILA, Philippines—More and more young Filipinos are lighting up cigarettes, with two out of five teenagers trying out the habit in 2011, the National Youth Commission warned Friday.

The NYC raised an alarm on the increasing trend among Filipino youths to take up smoking at a press briefing in which it cited data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey made in 2003 and 2007. The agency also urged the government to impose stricter controls and higher taxes on tobacco and liquor.

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Established by Republic Act 8044 or the Youth in Nation-Building Act in 1995, the commission is the lead agency of the government in the formulation of youth-related policies and implementation of programs and projects for the youth.

The NYC said it expects tobacco use to have been on the rise in 2011 due to the decrease in the prices of cigarettes and the high demand. In 2011, nearly 5.3 million cigarette packs were sold, the highest volume of cigarette packs sold in a year since 1993, it said.

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According to NYC, 50.8 percent, or half of all Filipinos aged 13-15 will have tried using a tobacco product in 2011, when smoking among the country’s teenagers aged 13-15 may have escalated to as much as 38.2 percent (equivalent to 2.2 million), or two  out of every five 5 young Filipinos.

“Certainly, based on these estimates, the health of teenage Filipinos is now direly at risk from tobacco exposure and future smoking-related diseases. The immediate execution of more stringent tobacco control policies— such as the Aquino Administration’s proposed sin tax reforms— are sorely needed,” the NYC said.

The NYC said young people who are not smoking will be exposed to second-hand smoke. It noted that three out of five teenage Filipinos will live in homes where a family member is a regular smoker, while 78.1 percent or four out of five will live in communities with numerous smokers.

NYC Chairman Leon Flores called for raising the price of cigarettes to discourage young people from taking up the habit.

A recent survey conducted by the University of the Philippines Communication Research Society with the support of Health Justice found that 60 percent of the sample population would quit smoking if cigarettes were priced at P5 per stick.

“If the cost of cigarettes is high, fewer people will buy it. This is just one of the steps we see to curb this vice among the youth,” Flores said.

The NYC released its study as the battle for higher excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol rages on between health experts, the government, and the cigarette makers and breweries.

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Congress is currently reviewing proposals on reforming the so-called sin taxes, which the government said have only bolstered the virtual monopolies in the two sectors.

Most of the bills filed have sought higher levies to raise more revenues for the government and curb consumption amid the adverse effects on the population’s health.

The think tank Action for Economic Reforms said new levies on alcohol, spirits, and tobacco would give the government a P225-billion safety net that could help farmers create alternative forms of livelihood.

Tobacco companies and breweries have opposed the measure, saying it would hit the Filipino farmers and workers hardest.

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