MANILA, Philippines—Noting how Filipino heart attack or stroke victims are getting younger and younger, cardiologists and heart specialists on Tuesday urged the Senate to pass Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s version of the “sin tax” bill in order to save an estimated 75,000 lives annually.
The high incidence of smoking in the country has to be curbed because it is the one “major risk factor” in the development of heart disease, said Dr. Saturnino Javier, president of the Philippine Heart Association.
Javier warned that “it is now very, very common” for Filipinos in their 30s to have a heart attack or stroke, “unlike a decade before,” when the heart ailments were mostly common among Filipinos in their 40s.
3 packs a day
“My youngest patient today is a 17-year-old. His three blood vessels in the heart are clogged. He used to smoke three packs a day,” Javier said in a press conference in Quezon City.
“It is no coincidence that in the Philippines where the tobacco industry is very strong and the prevalence of smoking is very high that [heart disease] is the No. 1 killer,” he added.
Javier’s patient, who works in the advertising industry, is also obese, has high cholesterol levels, suffers from stress, and has a strong family history of heart disease.
“His case is rare but it drives home the message that even in the least unexpected scenarios, as long as you have confluence of factors that can promote heart disease, even at the age of 17, nobody’s protected,” Javier said.
“Smoking is the most common risk factor associated with deaths due to heart attack and stroke in the Philippines,” he said.
Ten Filipinos die from tobacco use every hour, and cigarette smoking kills nearly 876,600 Filipinos annually, according to Javier.
“Smoking is an eternally lit time bomb waiting to wreak havoc any time, on any Filipino, on any family, whether you’re poor, rich, young, old, female or male,” he said.
“Cigarette smoking contains nearly 4,000 chemicals of which 60 are proven cancer-causing agents. We cannot stand idle as 60 carcinogens are easily and legitimately available for everyone to enjoy,” Javier said.
Jo-ann Latuja, senior economist at the Action for Economic Reforms, said Santiago’s version of the sin tax bill, which is expected to raise P60 billion in revenues, would also save 75,000 lives a year.
“A single tax rate of P30 per cigarette pack will save at least 75,000 lives each year, at least nine percent of which is due to prevention of deaths from heart diseases. There would also be 2,490,000 smokers who would quit,” Latuja said.
By comparison, Sen. Ralph Recto’s version would only save 24,000 lives and lead to just 790,000 persons stopping their smoking habit, she said.
Citing health statistics, Latuja said that since 1990, diseases of the heart have been the No. 1 cause of death in the Philippines.
Mortality rates have also increased in heart diseases by 500 percent over the past 50 years or an average increase of 10 percent annually, she added.
Latuja said smoking causes more heart attacks than other risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.