A local vaping group called on the government to adopt a reasonable, risk-proportionate and realistic regulatory framework for e-cigarettes to help reduce serious sickness and premature death among millions of cigarette smokers in the Philippines.
“We all know that the combustion in cigarettes is what is harmful to the health of smokers. To help the 16 million Filipino smokers quit smoking or switch to less harmful alternatives, the regulation of e-cigarettes and other smoke-free alternatives should not be more restrictive than that of combustible cigarettes. We call on the government to follow the lead of other countries that have looked at the evidence for e-cigarettes with an open mind and made decisions that are helping reduce smoking,” said Peter Paul Dator, president of The Vapers Philippines.
Dator cited the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey, which found that there are currently 16 million Filipino adult smokers. “Unfortunately, the Philippines has a very low 4-percent smoking cessation rate. This dismal smoking quit rate indicates the ineffectiveness of currently approved smoking cessation strategies in the country such as ‘quitting cold turkey’, counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy. Most smokers who die or who lose years of quality life and mobility as a result of tobacco use have probably tried to quit smoking several times and probably regretted ever starting,” he said.
Department of Health data show that almost 88,000 Filipinos die from smoking-related diseases every year. Healthcare expenditures and lost income due to smoking-related sickness and premature death cost the country P188 billion ($4 billion) yearly. These figures only cover four of more than 40 smoking-related diseases namely lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke.
In 1976, Professor Michael Russell wrote that “smokers smoke for the nicotine but die from the tar”. “When we urge people to stop smoking, we explicitly mean to quit smoking tobacco. The harm from smoking is caused primarily through the toxins produced by the burning or combustion of tobacco,” Dator said.
By contrast, non-tobacco, non-smoked nicotine products are considerably less harmful. There is now widespread agreement from organizations such as Action on Smoking and Health, Public Health England, Cancer Research UK, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of GPs that, on the basis of current evidence, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vapes) represent a significantly less harmful alternative to tobacco cigarettes for smokers who are unable or unwilling to stop using nicotine.
The UK Tobacco Control Plan 2017-2022 clearly states the British government’s intention to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products, particularly e-cigarettes. In 2019, an estimated 3.6 million consumers in England used e-cigarettes, 54 percent of whom have completely stopped smoking.
Initially opposed to e-cigarettes, the New Zealand Ministry of Health changed its position and now encourages smokers in the country to use vaping products as a smoking cessation aid in conjunction with the support of local quit smoking services. It also provides smokers with support on how to use vaping products to quit smoking by referring them to accredited vape shops in their locality.
Heated tobacco products are another less harmful nicotine alternative. The most popular HTP brand is IQOS, which was launched in Japan in 2014. The entry of HTPs in Japan has accelerated the remarkable decline in the country’s smoking rate.
Dator cited the testimony before the Joint Trade and Health Committee of the House of Representatives on December 2019 of tobacco harm reduction expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos.
“Dr. Farsalinos urged local legislators to look at the Tobacco Products Directive [TPD] of the European Union [EU] as a guide in creating an e-cigarette regulatory framework that will maximize public health benefits and minimize potential risks.” The TPD was promulgated in 2014 and adopted into the national legislation of all EU member states in 2016. It regulates e-cigarettes under a separate section that does not classify them as tobacco products. All e-cigarette products in the EU are marketed as consumer products with limited restrictions.
According to Dator, e-cigarettes should be taxed lower than tobacco cigarettes to provide an incentive to smokers to switch to e-cigarettes and completely quit smoking. He stressed that e-cigarette regulation should be realistic and ensure product quality. “Regulations that are unreasonably difficult to comply with and lead to high business costs would result in the elimination of legitimate vaping products and the creation of an unregulated black market. Both consequences will end up protecting tobacco cigarette sales and putting vapers at risk with the proliferation of low-quality and unsafe black market products.”
Dator said that regulations should ensure that e-cigarettes do not target never-smokers and youth. “Selling of e-cigarettes to minors should be banned, and violators should be fined heavily. Instead of a ban, specific regulatory restrictions should be implemented on e-cigarette advertising. Marketing and proper education should emphasize that e-cigarettes are to be used as smoking substitutes only,” he said.