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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Congressional probe on effect of vaping opened

Valenzuela City Rep. Weslie Gatchalian, Chairman of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, opened a congressional hearing on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) amid the vaping ban imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte and the “unmitigated misleading information” surrounding the new products.

Gatchalian said there are currently 15 measures that have been referred to the House Committee on Trade and Industry that push for the regulation of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products in the Philippines. “The Committee on Trade and Industry is duty-bound to hear, deliberate and recommend the approval of the House of Representatives on a policy that will be most effective to advance the interests and promote the welfare of the people,” he said.

Valenzuela City Rep. Weslie Gatchalian

“Because of a number of issues that have recently gained media attention both in the Philippines and abroad, the use of ENDS and HTPs is now a national concern, so much so that the President recently issued a directive banning the importation and use of ENDS and HTPs in public spaces. This committee respects the directive of the President, and sees this as an opportunity for the Philippines to finally regulate this innovative device,” he said.

Gatchalian said the hearing seeks to determine the best public policy on these products which are viewed as less harmful alternatives to cigarettes or combustible tobacco products. “The Philippines is in a very unique position to set a global standard. Every day, there are new studies being published both in favor of the complete ban and the regulation of these devices, making the market hardly an exact science. What is clear however is that these new technologies are here to stay. Over-zealous regulation could impede its growth but regulation that is too lax can be prone to abuse,” he said.

Data from the World Health Organization show that smoking combustible cigarettes remains the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world as it kills more than 8 million people every year. Around 80 percent of the 1.1 billion smokers in the world live in low- and middle-income countries like the Philippines.

The latest survey conducted by the Department of Health and the Philippines Statistics Authority found that of the 108 million Filipinos, some 15.9 million were smokers representing 14.7 percent of the population. Of these smokers, 12 million or 76 percent are interested or plan to quit smoking tobacco.

The Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association (PECIA) claims that ENDS and HTPs can play an important role as they provide a less harmful choice for those who wish to quit smoking regular tobacco. This is supported by data from the European Commission which found that 61 percent of those who start using e-cigarettes do it to stop smoking.

“Whether or not this is true, the ENDS and HTP industry, which has been around for more than a decade, has grown to become a multi-million-peso industry. It has 800,000 users representing less than 1 percent of the Philippine population,” Gatchalian said.

He said the growth of the ENDS and HTP market was not limited to the Philippines. Data from Euromonitor International show that the global market size for ENDS and HTP products are steadily growing. In 2011, the global market size for vapor products was estimated at less than $2 billion. By 2016, the market grew to around $12.3 billion, representing a growth of 818 percent in 6 years.

By 2019, Euromonitor expects the global market to grow to more than $26 billion representing a growth of over 1700 percent in nine years.

Data from WHO indicate that vapor products still represent a small market compared to other forms of tobacco products but by 2021, Euromonitor estimates that vapor products will be more valuable than all other tobacco products except cigarettes, with a global value of $34 billion.

“Though the market is still small compared to cigarette products, which has a market value of $683.4 billion, what is clear is that the popularity of vapor products is steadily growing,” said Gatchalian.

According to PECIA, there are now over 879 vaping stores employing at least 2,637 individuals in the Philippines. The Philippine industry for vapor products also contributes to the export market.

Gatchalian said several members of the Senate and the House of Representatives went to Geneva several months ago to listen to WHO’s recommendations for policy and regulation. To get a balanced view, some delegates also went to the United Kingdom to listen to the policy views adopted by Public Health England, an executive agency under the United Kingdom’s Department of Health. The United Kingdom has one of the most effective and progressive policies on ENDS and HTPs in the world.

The UK is one of the many countries which have enacted regulations on ENDS. According to the WHO, at least 72 countries regulate ENDS, while 33 ban the sale of ENDS. The other 88 countries have no specific law or regulation on ENDS yet.

Data show that of the 72 countries which regulate ENDS, 41 regulate it as consumer products while 30 countries regulate it as a medicinal product.

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