A CERTAIN narrow yet crowded street on the corner of Dapitan has been a hub for students and adults alike who want to spend their free time with a stick of cigarette.

Yana, a first-year graduate student, spends most of her afternoons on the busy street with a white stick teeming with nicotine. Her friends keep her company.

“I realized that the bonding is really different when I smoke with friends,” she said.

And despite the strong smell of burning leaves and cluttered cigarette butts, the claustrophobic ambiance of Antonio Street is still home.

What is in a stick

“[I] first tried smoking during my 19th birthday,” Yana said. “Sa isang araw, I consume four to six sticks at siguro the longest I can stand without ‘yosi’ is three days or else nagiging uneasy na ko.”

“Matthew,” a third-year entrepreneurship student, started smoking when he was in high school and momentarily stopped by the time negative health manifestation got evident such as coughing.

Raymond Jay Mazo of the Lifestyle Related Disease Division of the Department of Health said smoking can damage every part of the body.

“Smoking causes [ailments such as] stroke, blindness, coronal heart diseases, asthma and other respiratory effects, and [may even] affect [the] reproductive system,” he said in an email.

“Children who are second-hand smokers are prone to respiratory problems, and some studies [also] indicate [that] this can cause brain tumors, lymphoma and leukemia.”

Dr. Maria Ronila Santos, unit head of the Smoking Cessation Clinic of the UST Hospital, said smoking also causes dependence and addiction.

“Nicotine binds to dopamine receptors in the brain, causing pleasure, increased awareness, increased wakefulness and increased cognitive activity,” she said in an email. “[However], more cigarettes will be needed to satisfy the craving.”

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Based on the July 2015 data of World Health Organization, cigarette smoking kills around six million people each year.

More than five million of these cases result from direct smoking, while more than 600,000 are non-smokers exposed to passive smoking.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), as of 2009, 17.3 million of the population aged 15 years old and above smoke.

Motivation to smoke

Mazo said understanding smoking behavior was contingent on comprehending the three parts of smoking addiction: physiological dependence, emotional condition and psychological connection.

Physiological dependence is parallel to addiction caused by ingested nicotine which as shown in studies, affects the brain similar to the drugs, heroin and cocaine.

Addiction to tobacco is due to the growing number of nicotinic receptors in the brain, thus to reach the level of satisfaction, the tendency of a smoker is to continuously smoke and purposely fill in the emptied receptors.

“[In my case], a free cut or a break from class will usually lead to both eating and smoking,” Matthew said. “Stressful days and long classes, [as well as] schoolwork come in play. Smoking can both help you forget stress and energize you.”

Oftentimes, smokers consume cigarettes based on their mood, either when happy, stressed, or sad.

“Despite its negative notion, smoking is a ‘way of life’,” Yana said. “It might have a biochemical effect to make us relax, but smoking also forms some sort of bond with friends.”

Psychologically, smoking can form part of the daily routine of smokers and could have social implications.

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Junior Marketing student “Glenn” started smoking last year. Although he had a try in high school, peer pressure and stress in college led him to the vice.

“Masama siyang tignan at gawin pero this is a relief [during the times when I am] down and usually a breaker during social drinking,” he added.

Curbing the addiction

Despite smoking’s popularity, the government has formed regulations to help curb the negative effects of smoking.

Primary to this endeavour is the Tobacco Act of 2003 that serves as a guide to tobacco control. Other related laws include the Philippine Clean Air Act and the Philippine Sin Tax Reform Act of 2012, which increased taxes on vices such as smoking. More recently are the directives to add picture-based warnings on the effects of smoking to cigarette packs.

Yana believes the problem with suppressing rampant smoking in the country through these methods is lack of national presence.

“I don’t think there ever was an idea that smoking was good,” she said. “I believe a smoker should already know what can happen if one would continue doing the vice.”

“I became a bit agitated because my consumption was affected [by picture-based warnings],” Matthew said. “I think the picture-based warning lessened people’s tendency to smoke.”

Glenn added the sin tax law may have affected smokers financially. Having allocated a budget for smoking in his allowance, higher cigarette prices definitely affected his smoking habit. “Smoking is an expensive vice,” he said. “Your budget for a day is decreased, and sometimes money allotted for commuting is spent on cigarettes.”

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According to Mazo, the therapy for quitting smoking begins with the smoker wanting to be “cured” of the vice.

“If the smoker is willing to stop the habit, he will have self-control to get better and successfully stop smoking,” he said. Rhenn Anthony S. Taguiam and Julius Roman M. Tolop


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