Ortigas Center, Metro Manila -- In celebration of the third year anniversary of the enactment of the Sin Tax Reform Law, over 100 national youth delegates from different regions in the Philippines gathered to intensify their commitments in tackling youth alcohol and tobacco use and promote public health. Kabataan para sa Kalusugan: A Bawas Bisyo Convention, jointly organized by Asian Medical Students’ Association Philippines (AMSA Phil), Action for Economic Reforms (AER), World Health Organization (WHO) and Youth for Sin Tax Movement (YFST) last December 19, 2015 served as an avenue to discuss the how the youth can work together to curb alcohol addiction and maximize the benefits of Filipinos with the Sin Tax Law.
Among the highlights of this convention is the advocacy campaign launched by World Health Organization-Western Pacific Region Office (WHO-PRO) and Action for Economic Reforms to increase the youth’s consciousness about the harmful effects of alcohol. This campaign seeks to promote health-seeking behavior by encouraging the youth to take a more active role in influencing their peers.
This call was very timely as the National Youth for Sin Tax Movement Movement convened by UP Economics Towards Consciousness (ETC) and AMSA Philippines united to celebrate and commit to furthering the law’s benefits. Jenah Lagdameo and Leo Rivera of ETC emphasized the role of the youth in curbing the current trend of alcohol consumption in the country. “We want to protect and advance the gains of the Sin Tax Law and other pro-health policies for the youth; we truly believe in the power of the youth to start a positive change in behavior among all Filipinos.” The convenors also invited youth organizations to join the National Youth for Sin Tax Movement and support the newly launched alcohol control advocacy by sending creative videos that expose the real harms of alcohol especially to the youth.
Dr. Mitch Mijares-Malini of the World Health Organization-Pacific Region Office echoed the sentiments of YFST as she noted the increasing consumption of alcohol among young people in the country. “This is worrying because the youth are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol such as road accidents and alcohol-related violence. Because the trend is rising, we expect to have more youth dying of causes that are preventable. We really need to do something about it.”
Ms. Jo-Ann Diosana from Action for Economic Reforms then recognized the contribution of the Sin Tax Law in the battle against tobacco and excessive alcohol use for health. “The Sin Tax Law of 2012 is one law that has been recognized not just in the Philippines but also around the globe. In just three years, our country has already gained so much with the significant drop in cigarette consumption, and increase in funding for health. How much more, then, will the continuous increase in excise taxes in the coming years generate more benefits for the Filipino people?”
The Welcome Remarks was followed by the first part of the convention that tackled the medical consequences of excessive alcohol use in the body. Dr. Maricar Limpin of FCTC Alliance Philippines (FCAP) and Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) said, “Aside from smoking, drinking too much alcohol adversely affects one’s health and increases one’s risk of developing diseases such as various types of cancer. These two lifestyle activities are both leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the country. “
Curbing alcohol use among the younger population, however, may prove to be a challenge due to the intensive marketing campaigns of alcohol companies. As Dr. Leticia Ibanez-Guzman of the Philippine Philippine Society of Gastroenterology said In her talk on Direct Health Effects of Alcohol on the Gastrointestinal System, “Alcohol is an intoxicating and poisonous liquid drug…But in advertisements, it is always related to something fun and sexy. Alcoholic beverages already contain fruit juices and flavors, so they are attracting now the younger crowd.” But awareness is necessary to avoid the physical consequences of excessive alcohol use. “Diseases alcoholics can acquire include esophagitis, gastric cancer, colon cancer, cirrhosis, liver cancer, hepatitis, pancreatitis, etc. It also risks an alcoholic to ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.”
The second part of the program included the mental and social costs of alcohol addiction, including alcohol-related violence to women and children, drunk driving and road safety. According to Dr. Myra Dee Lopez-Roces of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, alcohol is usually associated with positive social effects and values in our culture including celebration. However, if used long-term, it may lead to alcohol use disorders, anxiety, depression, problems in cognition, and in some cases, suicidal attempts. According to Mr. Joshua Elias Suero of Action for Economic Reforms, driving under the influence of alcohol can also lead to bad motor coordination, impaired judgment, distorted vision, and slowed reflexes.
With this, Ms. May-iFabors of WomanHealth Philippines urged the youth to stand up against alcohol not only for its apparent medical and mental consequences but more so for its manifestations on the fabric of our society. She said, “Alcohol not only pushes us to take risks but it also takes away our power over ourselves. Official data have shown that alcohol, mixed with our macho culture result in higher prevalence of violence against women, including sexual violence such as rape and molestation. Under the influence, adolescent girls are made even more vulnerable, with the men, whom they trust taking advantage of their intoxication to force them into sexual relations. There is no excuse for violence. What alcohol does is exacerbate the already unsafe situation for all, including the men. The social costs of alcohol so far outweigh its benefits.”
Moving forward, Ms. Jo-Ann L. Diosana emphasized the unique opportunity and responsibility of advocates with the passage of the Sin Tax Law. “Ultimately, the sin tax law was able to achieve its direct health objective, which is to reduce alcohol, and tobacco affordability and to prevent specifically the youth and the poor from engaging in these vices; the law has also increased resources allocated for health.” But even as it was passed years before, law monitoring is still important in order to protect and defend the gains from sin tax.
Urging action among the youth, she notes, “Among the crucial roles the youth can play is to gather information and stories of smokers who were affected by the Sin Tax Law, as well as other benefits felt in the ground such as the increased provision of health services.”