12/05/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Philippines: teenage smoking at alarming levels

by Santosh Digal
30% of girls between 13 and 15 years old smoke regularly. 90% of women say they are aware of the risks of smoking, but aren't quitting. At the university hospital of Manila, a strict anti-smoking rule is in effect: those who are caught smoking are suspended.

Manila (AsiaNews) - In the Philippines, the number of women who smoke is constantly on the rise. It is a phenomenon that, in recent years, seems to affect the youngest most of all: 30% of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 smoke regularly.

According to a recent study conducted by the Southeast Asia Tabacco Control Alliance, 18.7% of Filipino young women between the ages of 13 and 25 smoke cigarettes. The numbers go up if the sample is restricted to teenagers between 13 and 15: 3 out of 10 already have the smoking habit. Among female smokers, 60% say that they smoked their first cigarette at the age of 18, while the remaining 40% say they started when they were still very young.

They continue to smoke despite the fact that they are aware of the risks connected to smoking: nine girls out of ten know that smoking can cause lung cancer, infertility, early menopause, osteoporosis, and hysterectomy. For this reason, the country has begun an anti-smoking campaign supported by the local Catholic Church: the first initiatives include that of putting warning labels on packaging.

Sister Tina Aguilar, director of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, focuses attention on parents and teachers, who "must be the first to monitor minors and their behavior." The Catholic university center welcomes more than 40,000 students, and has implemented a strict ban on smoking. The anti-tobacco campaign is inflexible: before being admitted, every student must sign a document declaring that he or she will not smoke or take drugs. The health services of the university also provide for surprise checkups among students, to verify that the agreement is being respected. Those who test positive are suspended, and cannot attend classes.

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