The proximity of stores, shops, street vendors and kiosks that sell tobacco and nicotine products contribute to the wide availability of these products and leave Filipino youth exposed to tobacco marketing strategies.
This was the finding of an observational study conducted by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control (IGTC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health which was released in September 2023. The same study added that tobacco and nicotine product sale and advertising persist within the proximity of schools in the Philippines, despite regulations prohibiting the sale, displays, advertisements, and promotions of tobacco products within 100 meters.
The study monitored the sale and marketing of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and heated tobacco products (HTPs) at 6,617 retailers within 200 meters of 353 schools in urban and rural areas of nine cities/regions, during the months of December 2022 to January 2023.
In violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, the study observed 2,070 cigarette, 43 e-cigarette, and 33 HTP retail locations within 100 meters of the majority of schools. RA 9211 prohibits the sale and distribution of tobacco products within 100 meters of schools, playgrounds, and other places often visited by minors.
The law also prohibits smoking in public places including schools, elevators, stairwells, hospitals, and public transportation stations, among others. Furthermore, tobacco advertisements on television, radio, and cinemas as well as sponsorships have been banned. Outdoor advertising of tobacco is also prohibited except inside point-of-sale retail stores.
Parents Against Vape (PAV) has strongly condemned this practice of marketing tobacco products near schools, adding that this can lead to youth tobacco initiation and reinforce use among those who currently use these products.
PAV said that the Department of Education (DepEd) and local government units (LGUs) should ensure that no person should smoke or vape whether inside or outside of the school premises at any time of day.
“Like cigarettes, vapes contain nicotine. Nicotine, in any form, is harmful to our child’s growing brain. We, should take efforts to reduce the exposure of our young children to e-cigarettes,” PAV said. “The tobacco industry must stop misleading people. Vaping is far from being safe.”
PAV expands nationwide
Meanwhile, an alliance between parents and Baguio City universities is taking shape against the “vapedemic” as PAV-Baguio is determined to end the scourge.
The University of Baguio and the University of the Cordilleras opened their doors to concerned parents, offering a transformative learning tour on policies and strategies in combating the vape menace.
The Smoke-Free Baguio Task Force led by Mayor Benjamin Magalong was elated over the support that the city’s smoke-free and vape-free campaign has been eliciting from the different sectors.
“It is exciting to see that PAV’s campaign strategy is brewing, fueled by passion on this first day of the parents’ convergence. Together, we can create a brighter, smoke-free and therefore healthier generation,” the task force said.
A group of parents in Sta. Rosa City in Laguna is also organizing themselves to establish Parents Against Vape-Laguna. Laguna is part of Region 4-A, the biggest region in the Philippines in terms of the number of voters.
PAV was founded and launched in Davao City in 2019.
Susceptible to effects of point-of-sale marketing
According to the study, young people and adolescents can be particularly susceptible to the influential effects of point-of-sale marketing such as strategically located product displays, sales of single stick cigarettes (which make cigarettes more affordable), and prominent advertising, including those at children’s eye level.
Findings show that despite policies requiring signage indicating that sales are prohibited to people under 21 years of age, only 11 percent of cigarette retailers, four percent of e-cigarette retailers, and 48 percent of HTP retailers had the requisite signage visible.
Likewise, 98 percent of cigarette retailers sold single stick cigarettes, and indoor and outdoor advertising (e.g., graphic printed signage/posters) were common across all retailer types.
Flavored tobacco, nicotine products
Flavored tobacco and nicotine products were also commonly available across retailers, including 90 percent of cigarette retailers and 98 percent of e-cigarette and HTP retailers. Flavors can expand product appeal by masking the harsh taste of tobacco.
Flavored products are also linked to increased product appeal and initiation among young people.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report on the global tobacco epidemic in 2021 stated that there are about 16,000 unique flavors available in some markets, of which more than half appeal to children and adolescents.
According to Jennifer Brown, a scientist from the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health and the study investigator, “Stricter enforcement of existing policies prohibiting sales and advertising of tobacco products within 100 meters of schools and implementation of a national comprehensive policy on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship can protect the well-being of Filipino youth and reduce the rate of tobacco-caused death and disease in the Philippines.”
According to the 2021 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), one in five Filipinos aged 15 years and older currently use tobacco. The 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, meanwhile, shows that 12.5 percent of students aged 13 to 15 in the Philippines are current tobacco users. This is equivalent to around 762,000 students who smoke cigarettes and other types of tobacco.
But more alarming is the rise in the use of electronic cigarettes among young people. In the age group 13 to 15 years old, electronic cigarettes recorded the highest prevalence compared to other tobacco products. It is estimated that 14.1 percent of students in this age group are current users of electronic cigarettes.
On the other hand, the percentage of those who have tried electronic cigarettes increased from 11.7 percent in 2015 to 24.6 percent in 2019. The use of electronic cigarettes is especially high among boys. From 15.7 percent in 2015, boys who have tried electronic cigarettes have more than doubled to 35.2 percent in 2019.
About 77 percent of those who smoke bought products from stores, kiosks, or street vendors, contrary to laws prohibiting sales to youth.
Implementing a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is one of the most cost-effective and high-impact ways that countries can reduce demand for tobacco, and the WHO Framework Convention.