Issue of May 5, 2019

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Health experts alarmed over youth’s use of betel nut chew
by Rimaliza A. Opiña

Doctors and other experts in the medical field have expressed alarm about the rising number of youth hooked on chewing moma (betel nut).

While the Department of Health or other institutions have yet to come up with data such as age range, demographics, and if there is a correlation between the increase in tobacco excise tax and the chewing of moma as tobacco alternative, experts admit the education and information campaign on the effects to health and environmental sanitation of chewing moma has to be strengthened.

“We have noticed the increasing number of youth who chew moma when we were deployed at ground zero in Itogon (Benguet) last year,” said Karen Lonogan, senior health program officer of the DOH Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit.

The youth’s chewing of moma has likewise been observed in other countries in Southeast and East Asia.

A 2005 bulletin published by the World Health Organization showed that in Micronesia and Saipan, of the 309 schoolchildren surveyed with a mean age 16.3 ± 1.5 years, 63.4 percent regularly used moma.

In 2012, the WHO also published a Global Youth Study Survey that said that in Palau, 63 percent of middle school and 75 percent of high school students have chewed betel nut, and more than half of the high school students have chewed it with tobacco.

Despite several local government units passing ordinances regulating the use of moma, Lonogan said the practice persists. “Ino-order pa nga e,” she said referring to the purchase of ingredients usually from Ifugao.

Components of the moma such as lime powder, tobacco leaf, piper betel leaf, and areca nut are sold in packets in markets.

Just like smoking, doctors are discouraging the public from chewing moma because it is one of the causes of cancers of the larynx, tongue, oral cavity, and salivary glands.

The Philippines has recently observed Head and Neck Cancer Consciousness Week last April 22 to 28.

Dr. Sherwin Biasura, medical specialist III Department of Otolaryngology (ORL)-Head and Neck Surgery (HNS) of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, said thyroid cancer is the top leading cause of head and neck cancers with 48 cases in 2018; followed by naso-pharyngeal cancer with 37 cases in 2018 and 15 cases from January to March this year.

Laryngeal cancer follows with 27 cases in 2018 and six cases from January to March 2019; tongue and oral cavity cancer – 17 cases in 2018 and eight cases for the same period in 2019; and cancer of the salivary glands, six in 2018 and two in 2019.

Common causes of these cancers are smoking and betel nut chewing, according to Dr. Arlex Atanacio, medical officer III, ORL-HNS, BGHMC.

Atanacio said oral sex is also a risk factor when the human papilloma virus enters the bloodstream through wounds in the mouth.

“You have to be sure about your partner,” Atanacio said.

To avoid these types of cancer, Atanacio advised the public to avoid or stop smoking, chewing moma, avoid inhaling smoke from burnt materials, and in general, practice a healthy lifestyle.

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