A survey on smoking

June 23, 2014
Social Climate By Mahar Mangahas
(The Philippine Daily Inquirer) June 21, 2014

Our newly posted report, “First quarter 2014 Social Weather Survey: Survey on usage, attitudes and behavior of Filipinos towards smoking” (www.sws.org.ph, 6/18/2014), backs up the Department of Health’s announcement last May 30, the day before World No Tobacco Day, that smoking among the young and the very poor has decreased. The DOH considers the youth and the poor as its prime target groups.

A few clarifications are in order. The DOH commissioned a special module on smoking within a regular SWS quarterly omnibus survey of adults, i.e., age 18 and above.  Thus surveys of very young smokers (age 17 and below) are also needed, for a full picture.  (Using an omnibus survey costs much less than commissioning a dedicated survey.  The first quarter round was fielded on March 27-30, 2014 on a sample of 1,200 adults, for a national error margin of 3 percent.)

Age of smokers. The age groups of the survey, namely 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55+, had 12, 24, 24, 17 and 24 percent of the sample, respectively.  In the “youthful” 18-24 group, 18 percent said they were smokers at present, 16 percent said they did not smoke now but had tried it before, and 66 percent said they never smoked.

The percentage of youthful smokers fell from 21 in September 2013 and from 35 in December 2012—just before the new sin tax was implemented in January 2013—according to previous SWS survey modules also commissioned by the DOH.  Thus it dropped first by 14 points over the nine months between the 2012 and 2013 readings, and then by 3 more points over the six months between the 2013 and 2014 readings.

The presently-smoking percentages for the five age groups, starting from the youngest, are 18, 28, 30, 29 and 23.  In other words, the smoking habit rises with age, peaking at 35-54, and then comes down.  Comparing March 2014 with December 2012, the drop in smoking is most noticeable in the youthful group. The drop is only slight among those aged 25-34 and 55+.  There is no drop (yet?) among smokers in the two middle-age groups.

Forty-five percent of the smokers said that they coped with the increase in cigarette prices by switching to other—i.e., cheaper—brands.  The older the smokers, the more the brand-switchers among them—ranging from 30 percent among 18-24 year-olds to 61 percent among those aged 55 and up.

Socioeconomic class of smokers. The survey’s first approximation for the very poor covers those in the so-called Class E (based on market research criteria for judging the quality of the respondent’s dwelling). Twenty percent of the March 2014 survey sample, as randomly drawn, was classified by the interviewers as Class E.

In the March 2014 survey, 25 percent of Class E respondents said they smoked at present, 15 percent said they did not but had tried it before, and 61 percent said they had never smoked.  The percentage of smokers in class E fell from 34 in September 2013, and from 38 in December 2012, i.e., by 4 points in the initial nine-month interval, and then by 9 points in the following six-month interval.  The total fall of 13 points is quite significant.

On the other hand, there was no decline of smokers in Class D (74 percent of the 2014 sample), where the percentage went from 26 in December 2012 to 25 in September 2013, and then to 27 in March 2014. In Class ABC (only 4 percent of the 2014 sample), the percentage went from 25 in December 2012 to 17 in September 2013, and then to 20 in March 2014; but movements in the ABC figures are not statistically reliable.

Frequency of smoking. Smoking is not an all or nothing habit. It can be adjusted in terms of both frequency and intensity.  The March 2014 survey (but not the earlier surveys) asked smokers if they habitually smoked every day, or several days a week, or several days a month, or several days a year.  It found 88 percent to be smoking daily, 10 percent smoking weekly, and 1.4 percent smoking monthly; all smokers smoke at least once  a month.

Then the survey asked for the number of cigarettes normally smoked in the time frequency chosen by the respondent.  The daily smokers had a very wide range of answers: 25 percent smoke not more than five sticks, 40 percent smoke 6-10 sticks, and 31 percent smoke 11-20 sticks. Among daily smokers, the general median is 10 sticks per day; only 25 percent smoke a full pack of 20 sticks per day.

Weekly smokers, on the other hand, have a median of five sticks per week.  Monthly smokers have a median of seven sticks per month, implying about one stick every four days.  The cigarette consumption per smoker, per common unit of time, say a month, is the average of the consumption rate of each habit weighted by the relative proportion of persons in the habit.

Incidentally, two-thirds of smokers buy their cigarettes by the stick. Less than one-fourth buy a full pack of 20 sticks. Nine percent buy partial packs of 5-10 sticks.

To gauge the trend in cigarette consumption, future surveys have to repeat the questions on frequency of smoking, and number of sticks smoked per unit of time. (And don’t forget to survey those under age 18.)

When asked what is the main purpose of the Sin Tax Law, 53 percent answered that it is meant to reduce the number of smokers, 19 percent said it is to increase the revenue of the government, and 28 percent said it is to do both.  Therefore the balance of opinion is primarily that the sin tax should reduce smoking. To do this, 68 percent are in favor of increasing cigarette prices further, and only 25 percent are opposed to it.

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