Health advocates are appealing to smokers not to light up during public events that will be attended by Pope Francis all over the Philippines.

The pontiff, who is scheduled to arrive in the country on January 15, is expected to draw millions of Filipinos as he visits Metro Manila and Leyte during his five-day mission.

“We are appealing to all smokers not to light up during any of these public events in reverence to the Holy Father and in consideration to the massive crowd including children who may be exposed to second-hand smoke, said New Vois of the Philippines (NVAP) President Emer Rojas.

The pope, whose simple and humble way of life has endeared him to millions of Filipino Catholics, will hold a Holy Mass at the Manila Cathedral before proceeding to the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay a day after his arrival.

He will then proceed to Tacloban the next day to hold a Mass at its local airport and meet with typhoon Yolanda survivors in Palo, Leyte.

An itinerary of the pope was made public by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to guide the faithful who wish to see the pontiff.

On January 18 the Holy Father is scheduled to meet young people at the sports field of the University of Sto. Tomas followed by a motorcade to Rizal Park where a concluding Mass will be held.

Rojas said it is hazardous for non-smokers and specially children to inhale tobacco smoke during one of these public events.

“Second-hand smoke is as equally dangerous as smoking itself. The International Agency on Cancer Research classifies second-hand smoke as a carcinogen which means that even if you are not smoking but are exposed to tobacco smoke you are also at risk of cancer,” said Rojas.

The World Health Organization estimates that half of all Filipino women and children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in homes and in public areas. Many women develop cancer not because they smoke but because they live with smokers.

Tobacco use kills an estimated six million people around the world annually while around 600,000 die of second-hand smoke. Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and stroke.

In the Philippines, ten Filipinos die every hour or a total of 87,000 every year due to smoking.

Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Control Act prohibits smoking in public places but this is loosely implemented even with No Smoking signs around.

“We also appeal to our authorities to engage anyone who is seen smoking during any of these public events and to also show some propriety by not smoking themselves,” said Rojas.

Last year the government approved the implementation of graphic health warnings on all tobacco labels as a reinforcement to the sin tax law which seeks to control the country’s tobacco epidemic.

An estimated 17.3 million Filipino adults smoke and consume about 1,073 sticks of cigarettes a year, the highest tobacco use in Southeast Asia.(NVAP)