Filipino vapers gathered together in Quezon City on May 28 for the 1st Summit on Harm Reduction and pushed for their right to safer alternatives to smoking.
The summit organized by The Vapers Philippines at Sulo Riviera Hotel discussed the need for regulation and cooperation among players in the electronic cigarette sector. Vaping is an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an e-cigarette—a battery-operated device which vaporizes a flavored liquid made of water, nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerol, and flavorings.
Advocates say vaping is considered a significantly less harmful practice compared to the traditional burning of cigarettes.
Nancy Sutthoff, New Zealand spokesperson of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations, asked the Filipino vapers to work together, form a network and be a community of advocates for e-cigarettes or vapes.
Standing in their way are medical associations, pharmaceutical companies and the Department of Health which tows the line of the World Health Organization that refuses to endorse e-cigarettes.
“Three years ago, New Zealand was basically in the same position as the Philippines in terms of the proposed regulatory framework and legislation on e-cigarettes,” says Sutthoff, a former smoker who switched to e-cigarettes.
New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where e-cigarettes are accepted and regulated, along with Japan, South Korea, England, Denmark and other areas in Canada and Europe.
“What vaping advocacy groups in New Zealand did was we got together, learned as much as we possibly could about the regulatory and legislative environment and collected the latest scientific evidence on e-cigarettes,” says Suthoff, who lost her mother to an illness caused by years of smoking.
“We then talked to doctors and connected these experts to people in the government, such as mayors and legislators, and presented the evidence to make them understand,” says Sutthoff, who is also the co-founder and co-director of the Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy in New Zealand.
Heneage Mitchell of Hong Kong-based advocacy group Fact Asia Consultants Ltd. says e-cigarettes should not be classified as a tobacco product which is normally burned. E-cigarettes, he says, are only heated and thus do not produce tar which is harmful.
The WHO, however, does not endorse e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking. Armando Peruga, who has two decades of experience in tobacco control, said on the WHO website that “these devices have become popular over the last four or five years, so there are only a few studies on the health risks and we don’t know the long-term effects.”
“We don’t have epidemiological studies, such as those on the links between tobacco and cancer, because such studies take decades to complete. Nicotine is highly addictive and we don’t want non-smokers to start using it,” Peruga said.
Mitchell, however, says there are now numerous studies attesting to the efficacy of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool which is 95-percent less risky than cigarettes.
Suthoff says authorities should “protect the health of the public with science and knowledge”.
She says that in the case of New Zealand, the high incidence of smoking resulted in many smokers developing smoking-related illnesses, which put a heavy financial burden on the National Health System.
New Zealand experience
Sutthoff says similar to the situation in the Philippines, there is a big group of people in New Zealand who want to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as conventional cigarettes.
“Luckily for us, our Ministry of Health [MoH] is well informed because we spent so much time educating them,” she says.
“The potential of vaping products to help improve public health depends on the extent to which they can act as a route out of smoking for New Zealand’s 550,000 daily smokers, without providing a route into smoking for children and non-smokers,” the MoH stated. The agency cited expert opinion that vaping products are significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco but not completely harmless.
Sutthoff will be one of the speakers on the Global Forum on Nicotine to be held on June 14 to 16 in Warsaw, Poland.