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Tobacco Growing Should Be Banned, at Least in the Philippines

Updated on September 18, 2015

Flue-curing barn (left part of photo, taller than cottage) for curing Virgina tobacco

Tobacco triggers cancer, heart disease, ecological disaster and harbors corruption

Acculturation in tobacco

I don’t know how old I was but I could already walk and jump. I remember my lola, grandmother, was rolling some tobacco leaves she had stripped of midribs and veins and cut into shape to make a cigar. She laid the strips one on top of the other, making layers one or more depending on how big she wanted the cigar to be. These she rolled; twisted both ends like a rope to serve as binders for the whole cigar. There, she had a homemade cigar.

My lola was squatting on a bed, immersed on rolling her cigar. I jumped behind her and tapped her back a little hard for no reason. My father saw what I did and scolded me. My lola said in Ilocano: "Don’t tap my back hard, Apok.” “Apok” is an endearment for granddaughter or grandson. I remember her voice, it still rings in my ears up until now even when some 62 years had already passed.

That was the last time I saw her seated or squatting. I can’t even remember her face. In days that followed she was bedridden. Some nights my father would help her take breaths. One afternoon she passed away. I did not even shed a tear; I still did not know what grief was. In 1983 I realized my lola died of heart attack. That was the year our father also died of heart attack. Heart disease runs in my father side. My literature research says the arteries are prone to accumulation of bad cholesterol deposits. This is heritable. In fact his three sisters died of heart attack. One sure thing that they did, smoke cigars. My father did not smoke but he chewed tobacco together with betel nut and some lime wrapped in “gawed” a leaf of a vine that is hot when chewed. The habit is called mama in Ilocano.

I tried to imitate my father. The first time I did I had a fit of coughing. I felt dizzy. I felt hot in my mouth, producing saliva in profusion. I tried mama again. I found that if you chewed mama so often your mouth got numb then felt some tingling in the head no more dizziness. I realize it now, this was the onset of addiction to mama. I saw old men in our neighborhood chewing mama who did not brush their teeth that were blackened, some front teeth missing. Now I know, it was the nicotine. I was not yet in grade school. When I was in Grade 1, I decided to stop chewing mama because our teacher told us to brush out teeth regularly. She wanted to see our teeth gleaming white.


From Grade 1 through to my first office job after college I did not smoke. In my second job I got into smoking. Our office director favored wine and after office hours he would gather members of middle management to a drinking session. I tried to be a good employee with an eye for some promotions. I partook of the wine. In the early sessions I got drunk so easily. I had to find some ways to last a drinking session without getting drunk. I found that smoking mitigated the effect of wine. So, for ten years I got hooked to smoking. In 1990, I had a fit of coughs, with hard breathing. I knew smoking was the culprit. I realized I was hosting my enemy. I used the period of medication for my cough as the period of withdrawal from smoking. I never got hold of a cigarette stick since then.

In 1986 I left this office and moved to the University of the Philippines, College of Agriculture, where I graduated. My new director did not conduct any drinking spree.

The drinking director had long retired. After retirement he attended one anniversary celebration of his former office. There he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, Philippine Heart Center-Asia, some 60 kilometers away. He was operated on right away: coronary arterial bypass graft surgery on seven arteries. He did not smoke but he inhaled second hand smoke during drinking sprees he orchestrated. Smoke contains x-rays and free radicals that trigger heart disease. Alcohol contributes to heart disease. Unmetabolized alcohol gets converted to furfural and formaldehyde that hardens arteries. In fact, formalin that is used in embalming contains 67% formaldehyde.

Heart disease

I read it many times, heard it many times that smoking causes cancer. But I cannot remember smoking was also associated with heart disease. I was already wary of this disease from the fate of my lola, aunts and father. At the back of my mind, I was hoping, this disease would not apply on me.

In 1993 through to 1994, I had skip beats. I consulted an internist who heard some bad murmurs of my heart. She gave an electrocardiograph test and saw irregularities in my heart beats. She advised me to go for two-dimensional echocardiography (2D echo). I postponed it, perhaps for fear I would find out that I have heart disease. I knew I was indulging in denial. In 2002 I felt so bad that I decided to have 2D echo. My heart muscles were found healthy but some occlusions were found in some arteries. My cardiologist gave me a prognosis: “he is a candidate for heart surgery.” There was no doubt now that heart disease applied on me. How could I have avoided it? I asked myself. May be it is still not too late, i thought. I postponed going under the knife.

I wanted to control the decision of going through heart bypass surgery. I did literature research. I found an alternative in 2004: infusion chelation therapy. I have now completed 36 sessions for a program of 45 sessions. I am getting well. I believe I have licked my heart disease.

New entries as of Sept. 4,2014

In 2002, the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Heart, Lungs and Blood) of USA launched "Trials to Assess Chelation Therapy" (TACT). It is a double blind randomized with control study. TACT has found that chelation therapy is safe and effective for heart disease. A beneficial side effect is that it also safe and effective for diabetes type 2. Some of the participants of TACT were suffering from diabetes who were treated of it. Results of the study were announced in a meeting of the American Heart Association held in Los Angles, California on November 4,2014. The study costs US$30 million.

So proof for chelation therapy is no longer anecdotal but by double blind experimental design. My decision to go for chelation therapy has been vindicated. in TACT the number of chelation sessions is 40; I have already completed 44 sessions. My heart arteries are as good as new. End of new entries.

Flue-curing tobacco triggers ecological disaster

A cigarette stick is a combination of different varieties of tobacco: Burley or Virginia that further has sub-varieties. Virgina tobacco must be cured, called flue-curing, before it can be stored for further processing into cigarettes. This consists of placing tobacco leaves inside a barn to cure them by yellowing the leaves, then drying them in about five days. The barn is enclosed and its temperature is raised. Heating consumes energy from wood or bunker oil.

Growing of Virginia tobacco has been in vogue in the Ilocos region of the Philippines where it grows well. Farmers make their flue-curing barns out of dried clay. To produce heat, farmers have cut down a lot of duhat trees or tamarind trees for use as fuel. This practice has depleted the natural stands of duhat (Zysygium cumini) to the extent of ecological disaster. Cutting down of trees has resulted in erosion and flash floods not to mention high ambient temperature of the air during summer. Ground water also has gone deeper.

I saw these myself as I had been a project manager of a group of tobacco farmers in the La Union province for over a year (1974-75). To abate ecological disaster, the government developed a big flue-curing barn that could accommodate 3000 sticks of tobacco leaves at a time. A stick is comprised of 16 to 20 leaves. This barn is made of concrete (see picture) that can cure a batch of leaves about 40 farmers had harvested. The small-hold clay barn can only accommodate about 300 sticks. However, when the price of oil rose in the late 1970s the use of bunker oil as fuel became unprofitable.

After the tobacco growing season farmers planted cotton. I find cotton to be a good crop in place of tobacco.

Other crops like cotton or legumes or corn should be raised instead of tobacco.

Tobacco harbors corruption

The tobacco plant is not native to the Philippines. The Spaniards who colonized the country for over 300 years introduced it from North America.

Smoking originated with the American Indians. They smoked to deepen their incantations. Sir Walter Raleigh, a British conquistador who had mingled with American Indians, caught the habit and brought it to the court of the English queen. Some nobles took the habit from Raleigh and spread it to Europe. Tobacco growing, cigar making, cigarette manufacture has become an industry. Smoking is now a social problem.

The Spaniards mandated a tobacco trading monopoly especially in the Ilocos provinces (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan) where this crop grows well during summer. Tobacco was a highly priced export to Europe. The tobacco monopoly was once the cause of a rebellion by Ilocanos, natives of Ilocos region.

The trading of flue-cured tobacco harbors corruption. Cured tobacco is graded, A, B, C, and D or reject. Class A consists of uninjured leaves (by worms or handling), smooth, uniformly yellow, soft and large. The selling price is determined by class and weight with class A commanding the highest price.

Corruption creeps in both the class and weight. The producer or the trader would bundle together class A leaves for presentation to a buyer. Some bundles belong in class A alright. But other bundles would include leaves of lower class. The buyer would pay the lot the same price only to find he had been had. It is difficult to get redress.

Cheating in weight is prevalent. Some pieces of wood or stones would be imbedded in some bundles increasing the weight.

Such corruption was indulged in more by the trader than by the producer. The trader got more profits than the producer. Nevertheless farmers got a higher income from growing tobacco.

Growing of tobacco, at least in the Philippines, should be banned

I have three more Hubs on tobacco.Tobacco contains poisons like free radicals and radiation (like X-rays) that trigger cancer, heart disease, emphysema and bronchitis. A new law signed by President Barack Obama mandates the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the cigarette industry in reducing and removing radiation in cigarettes.

In the Philippines the cost of medication of victims of tobacco smoke is 188 billion pesos while the taxes from sales of tobacco is only 30 billion pesos.

Hubs on chelation therapy by conradofontanilla:


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines


    I have several relatives who earn income from tobacco growing. That's the only benefit they get but that is more than offset by the ecological disaster they inflict on their community and the diseases they get from smoking. My father hailed from Batac, Ilocos Norte. I also hear laments from tobacco growers that their grand old duhat and tamarind trees are gone, used as fuel of their flue-curing barns. Some of them had died of having their bodies overheated inside their barns. They get paralyzed slowly by the heat. If mango fruit did not command a high price, may be even the mango tress could be near decimation by now.

    I was a Virginia tobacco technician in La Union. After their tobacco crop farmers planted cotton which i saw was growing well. I was also there during one rice planting season. They were surprised to see me plant rice at equal distances and straight rows, finishing far ahead of their fastest planter. I told them my family in Cagayan province grows rice; of course, I am a graduate of the University of the Philippines, College of Agriculture. Tobacco growing and tobacco consumption are a political, economic, social and ecological issue that politicians don't have the guts to face for fear they might lose votes. I would love to see Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago commit a political harakiri on the tobacco issue. I will lead a movement to erect a monument of Miriam.

  • Greenlily profile image


    6 years ago from Philippines

    I agree one hundred percent. These tobacco farmers should rather plant rice or any other crops that don't kill people.

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines

    An AYM,

    Thanks. The ability to read is a blessing. Unfortunately it also serves as the avenue for the entry of advertising. Well, some people like to harm themselves for some temporary pleasure. Others smoke out of ignorance of the harm it can inflict. But it is a lot different if the act harms other people who like to stay healthy.

  • profile image

    An AYM 

    6 years ago

    I've never understood how something that's recognized as harmful can still be so prolific and successful. I hope your presense and your writings can help to be a voice to your goals. I like the way you express yourself.


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