The vape bill, once properly implemented, offers the Philippines an opportunity to make the smoking problem obsolete which will significantly improve public health, according to international experts.
“E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products pose only a small fraction of risks of smoking and have the potential to make smoking obsolete, which would have a profound beneficial impact on public health,” said Prof. Peter Hajek of the Queen Mary University of London.
Prof. Hajek, Prof. David Nutt of the Imperial College of London, Prof. David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa, Dr. Tom Glynn of Stanford University’s School of Medicine and other international academic and research experts expressed support for the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act which was ratified by the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives in January 2022.
The vape bill, which aims to regulate the use, manufacture, trade, sale, distribution, and promotion of vaping and heated tobacco products in the country, awaits the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
It has strong prohibitions on the use of smoke-free products by minors. The bill bans the sale to and marketing initiatives targeting or appealing to minors and imposes hefty fines and imprisonment for non-compliance.
“Regulators are sometimes lobbied to ban EC and HTP with claims that these products lure children to smoking. The argument is false. These products, in fact, deflect young nicotine seekers away from smoking,” said Hajek, whose research was published in over 300 publications and contributed to global anti-smoking policies.
Hajek said e-cigarettes have been shown to help smokers quit in clinical trials when provided proactively. “Population data suggest they also help smokers who purchase them as a consumer product. The increase in use of reduced-risk nicotine products and their sales have been accompanied by decreases in smoking prevalence and cigarette sales. The triangulated evidence suggests that EC help smokers quit and have the potential to replace cigarettes on the population scale,” he said.
“Smoking causes cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease. Replacing smoking with EC and HTP use would dramatically reduce smoking-related suffering and death. Good regulations encourage smokers to switch to these products. Regulations that make them less attractive to smokers are unethical and harm public health,” said Hajek, who is also the director of Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at Wolfson Institute of Population Health of the Queen Mary University of London.
Nutt said he also supports the availability of vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. “My research nearly 10 years ago showed vaping to be at least 25 times less harmful than cigarettes and many subsequent studies have confirmed this risk ratio. The Philippines would surely benefit in the same way if vaping was encouraged over cigarettes like it is in the UK and New Zealand,” he said.
He said that based on clinical studies, cigarette smokers who switched to vaping saw their health improve. He also denied that vaping would be a gateway to smoking.
“The fear that vaping will lead to young people taking up cigarettes has been shown to be unfounded by the US data that reveals the most dramatic declines in youth cigarette smoking ever on account of them using vaping instead,” said Nutt, who teaches Neuropsychopharmacology and is the director of Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College of London.
Examples from around the world show that non-combustion products can substitute lethal cigarettes, according to Sweanor. “This is hugely important since it has been known for decades that the horrendous human toll from smoking is due to the inhalation of smoke rather than the nicotine,” he said.
“We can use substitution for those who would otherwise smoke cigarettes, and thus to replicate what has greatly reduced the risks of so many other goods, services and activities. The most toxic consumer product on the market should not be protected from innovative alternatives, but rather driven from the market by that innovation,” said Sweanor, advisory committee chair at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.
“President Duterte can embolden entrepreneurs and empower consumers to unleash a public health revolution by signing the vaping law,” he said.
Glynn noted the astounding progress in reducing the death and disease caused by cigarette smoking in recent years. He said that in the US, the percentage of smokers in the population has dropped from more than 40 percent in the early 1960s to about 14 percent today, representing millions of lives saved from the ravages of cigarette smoking.
“Driven by the collaborative efforts of clinicians, scientists, public health experts, political and policy advocates and advocacy organizations, the magnitude of progress and the long-term trends of declining smoking prevalence has made the demise of cigarette smoking seem almost inevitable,” he said.
Glynn said this progress in smoking reduction, however, may be in danger of stalling due to the divisive and shameful conflict. “Good science has given us the clinical, policy, and advocacy tools to end cigarette smoking. We now must end the conflict in the global tobacco control community and use those tools to move on to the cigarette smoking endgame and thus put the finishing touches on one of, if not the, greatest public health achievements of the past century,” said Glynn, an adjunct lecturer at Prevention Research Center of Stanford University.
Most Filipino respondents of a survey undertaken last year are in favor of government policies that encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives. Around 17 million Filipinos continue to smoke cigarettes, according to the Department of Health.