EMER Rojas, an engineer, smoked more than two packs of cigarettes per day. He developed throat cancer which prompted doctors to remove his voice box.
He may have lost the ability to speak, but this did not stop Rojas from communicating his message — “stop smoking.”
“I started at 17 years old. Dati isa-isang stick lang ‘yan, hanggang sa dumami ng dumami (Before it was just a single stick, until it went more and more),” Rojas, who now works for the National Commission on Disability Affairs, said in a forum held on Friday.
Rojas regained his ability to verbally communicate using an electronic artificial voice box, which costs around $500 to $700.
Jojo Flores also thought that he had only canker sores in his tongue.
On seeing a doctor, it was discovered that he already had terminal tongue cancer.
He admitted to drinking hard liquor whenever he meets his clients in his previous job. He took whisky, gin or tequila on a daily basis.
Rojas and Flores are two prominent cancer survivors who are helping raise awareness on head and neck cancer which, according to oncologist Dr. Laura Pedraza, had a low chance of survival because of a very low detection rate.
She also said that cases of head and neck cancer are now getting younger and younger, with some cases beginning at 18 years old, most likely due to the prevalence of electronic cigarettes or vapes and secondhand smoke.
Rojas said that cancer is not only a disease of the body, but also a disease that can cause financial ruin for families where a member is diagnosed with the disease.
Fortunately, the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, passed in 2019, would be able to resolve the problems of cancer patients, as it allows them increased access to medicines to the Department of Health (DoH), and making cancer patients as part of persons with disabilities (PWD).
But Rojas said the implementation of the law has been a “hit or miss,” because, for the most part, some patients did not know that they are able to register to become a PWD that would allow them benefits and discounts to treatments.
Both Rojas and Flores urged local government units to speed up the implementation of the law’s provisions on the issuance of PWD identification cards to allow them to enjoy the benefits mandated by law.
Dr. Clarito Cairo, program manager for cancer control of the Department of Health, said that the DoH has been continuing its step-by-step implementation of the law by consulting experts and local government units on how to inform cancer patients about these benefits.
They have also institutionalized the Cancer Assistance Fund, which allows cancer patients financial access for diagnostics and treatments, and the expansion of the Philippine National Formulary to include treatments for eight other cancers, including head and neck cancer.
Pedraza urged the government to educate the people on the importance of cancer prevention and their rights under the Nicca law, which allows them to remain hopeful even with their condition.
“Cancer is not the end of life, we have a future,” Pedraza added.
Veto draft vape law
In a related development, the DoH on Saturday reiterated its strong recommendation to President Duterte to veto the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act, noting that the bill is “contrary to public health goals.”
The bill, which was passed by both Senate and House of Representatives last year, will lower the age of access of electronic vaporizers and heated tobacco products or vapes from 21 years old to 18 years old, shifting the regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry, limiting graphic health warnings to just consumables, enabling online advertising and allowing the inclusion of flavorings and indoor use at points of sale as part of product demonstrations.
In a statement, the DoH said that contrary to the recent pronouncement by its advocates who hailed the provisions, the provisions are “retrogressive” and undermine existing national laws, policies and standards on regulation, distribution, advertising, promotions, sale, and use of vapes and heated tobacco products.
It added that the bill is also contrary to President Duterte’s position to protect Filipinos, especially the youth, from the harmful effects of smoke and emissions from tobacco, vape and heated tobacco products, while also negating the gains of the Universal Health Care act and other health laws.
“It will place Filipino youths at undue risk of harmful and addictive substances associated with vape use like alcohol, marijuana and potentially other illicit drugs,” the DoH added.
According to a Pulse Asia study released last year, seven out of 10 Filipinos support a strict smoke-free or vape-free policy in public spaces and a policy that restricts the accessibility of vapes at 21 years old and above, while six out of 10 Filipinos favor a bill that will ban the availability and accessibility of flavors that would appeal to the youth.
The DoH said that the veto of the vape bill will strengthen tobacco control in the country and would allow President Duterte to leave a lasting legacy that will guarantee the health of generations of Filipinos.
It added that it remains committed to protecting the legacy of the Duterte administration in tobacco control and reducing the burden of the disease caused by these products.
“The DoH and its different stakeholders support the avowed policy of the administration to protect the health of the nation, especially the youth. Hence, our continued assertion for the veto of the Vape Bill,” the Health department said.
The DoH officially joins other civil society organizations in calling for the veto of the bill, which includes the Sin Tax Coalition, the Philippine Medical Association, the Philippine College of Physicians and other cause-oriented groups.