International academic and research experts expressed support for the approval of the vape bill in the Philippines which they said will provide Filipino smokers less harmful alternatives to cigarettes and reduce the death toll from smoking.
Prof. David Nutt of the Imperial College of London, Prof. Peter Hajek of the Queen Mary University of London, Prof. David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa and Dr. Tom Glynn of Stanford University’s School of Medicine are referring to the ratification by the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives of the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act.
The bill aims to regulate the use, manufacture, trade, sale, distribution, and promotion of vaping and heated tobacco products (HTPs) in the country. It now awaits the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Prof. Nutt said he supports the availability of vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes in the Philippines. “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.
Prof. Nutt, who teaches Neuropsychopharmacology and serves as the director of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College of London, cited clinical studies showing that when cigarette smokers switch to vaping, their health improves. “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,” he said.
Prof. Hajek, whose research was published in over 300 publications and contributed to global anti-smoking policies, said e-cigarettes and HTPs 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.
“Regulators are sometimes lobbied to ban EC (e-cigarettes) 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,” he said.
The vape bill in the Philippines has strong prohibitions on the use of smoke-free products by minors. In particular, it bans the sale to and marketing initiatives targeting or appealing to minors and imposes hefty fines and imprisonment for non-compliance.
Prof. 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 the 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 helps 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 Prof. 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.
Prof. David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa said there are now examples from around the world that non-combustion products can substitute for lethal cigarettes. “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 Prof. Sweanor, advisory committee chair at 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.
Dr. Glynn said the global tobacco control community should be proud of the truly astounding progress it has made in reducing the death and disease caused by cigarette smoking.
“In the US, for example, 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.
Dr. Glynn said, however, the progress in smoking reduction may be in danger of stalling, amid 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 Dr. Glynn, an adjunct lecturer at Prevention Research Center of Stanford University.
There are 17 million Filipinos who continue to smoke cigarettes, and more than 100,000 of them succumb to smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease each year.
A scientific study in the United Kingdom found vape products to be twice as effective in making people stop smoking compared to nicotine replacement therapies.
A recent survey conducted by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network, shows that most Filipino respondents agree that the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives.