The recent Senate ratification of the reconciled version of House Bill No. 9007 and Senate Bill No. 2237 that seeks to regulate the use and sale of vaporized nicotine products or e-cigarettes has put the Philippines one step closer to helping the country’s smokers properly switch away from harmful tobacco smoking.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who had championed the passage of the bill said that the bill “is expected to encourage a shift from smoking the unhealthier cigarettes to these alternatives less harmful products.”
Despite some groups’ efforts to portray the bill in a negative light, Senator Recto clarified that the bill in fact regulates the sale and use of e-cigarettes and strengthens protection for minors, adding that “This bill is never intended to adopt a new lifestyle, especially for minors, who are prohibited from having access to these products.”
Although the present regulation of e-cigarettes in the Philippines have been characterized by a patchwork of different legislative directives over the past two years, the present bill provides a harmonized and balanced approach in regulating the use of e-cigarettes that have been proven to be the most effective aid for smokers looking to quit the habit. Legislating and regulating the sale and use of e-cigarettes ensures that the potential public health benefits can be reaped while at the same time addressing legitimate concerns of youth access through enhanced safeguards.
Lawmakers around the world have over time acknowledged e-cigarettes as an effective tool as part of a national strategy to reduce the health burden caused by cigarette smoking, and have passed similar legislation to ensure that e-cigarettes are only used as intended by the targeted demographic.
State regulation of this nature and one that covers a product like e-cigarettes is bound to be hotly debated and it would do well for all stakeholders to pause and examine how e-cigarettes are regulated and publicly communicated in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand where e-cigarettes have been held as a solution to end cigarette smoking in both countries.
Kicking the smoking habit with e-cigarettes in the United Kingdom
The UK has been one of the earliest adopters of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. It has conducted comprehensive studies on the effects of e-cigarettes and have routinely found their use by smokers to be highly effective. In 2015, the government’s public health agency, Public Health England published a landmark study acknowledging e-cigarettes to be 95% less harmful than regular tobacco cigarettes.
Numerous studies have also found that e-cigarettes have aided as many as 50,000 smokers to quit the habit each year. With the benefits being felt on the large scale at the public health level, health authorities and the National Health Service have rolled out initiatives to improve smokers’ access to e-cigarettes over the years such as the granting of permits for vape shops to be established on the premises of public hospitals, as well as a trial project where Accident & Emergency patients warded for any injury will be given a free e-cigarette kit if they are smokers.
As a result of the normalizing of e-cigarettes as a product meant for smokers to quit the habit, e-cigarettes have become associated specifically as intended, resulting in record low numbers of young people ever picking up or using e-cigarettes.
Clearing misconceptions of e-cigarettes in New Zealand
One of the most important strategies of New Zealand’s national Smokefree 2025 goal is to clear public misconceptions of e-cigarettes. Having acknowledged through robust scientific evidence of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in helping smokers switch away from smoking, the Ministry of Health in New Zealand embarked on a public information campaign with the launch of a vaping facts website (vaping facts.health.nz) to provide accurate information for people who are considering making the switch to e-cigarettes.
Together with the recently passed vape bill, the New Zealand government has similarly taken a balanced approach in regulating the products so that smokers continue to be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes while they are kept out of the hands of young people.
Clearly, both the approaches of the UK and that of New Zealand offer a model for how e-cigarettes can be successfully regulated such that the intended target audience can benefit from switching away from cigarette smoking while those who should not be using e-cigarettes are prevented from doing so.
In this aspect, the present bill regulating e-cigarettes in the Philippines promises to accomplish similar outcomes; as the Philippines will also become the first ASEAN country to take a progressive step towards the eventual elimination of the harms of tobacco smoking.