A number of prominent Filipino doctors rebutted misinformation on vaping and expressed support to the passage of the Vape Bill into law to reduce the 100,000 smoking-related deaths each year.
“If we do not pass the Vape Bill, there will be another 100,000 Filipinos who will die of smoking-related diseases for the year 2022. It is for this reason I support the passage of the Vape Bill,” said Dr. Arleen Reyes, past president of the Philippine Dental Association.
Dr. Fernando Fernandez, Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Dental Federation and the past president of the Philippine Dental Association, agreed, saying the regulation of vaporized nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco, will provide 16 million smokers with less harmful options to combusted cigarettes.
“I hate cigarettes and smoking period. However, despite all our efforts in the medical community, the cases of oral cancer are still at an alarming rate. Many Filipino smokers will continue to get this disease if we don’t act now,” said Dr. Fernandez, an oral and maxillofacial surgery expert.
Dr. Fernandez challenged other medical professionals to look at scientific evidence, including the findings of public health authorities in the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union that vapes are much less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
“It is unfortunate that some in the medical profession are making this a political issue. Let’s all be professional and focus on the scientific discourse. The science has become extremely strong in recent years that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes,” said Dr. Fernandez.
At the same time, he denied the allegations spread by some medical professionals who are against the landmark vape bill, saying their personal beliefs do not reflect the opinion of all medical associations and doctors in the country.
There is now a global scientific consensus, including from the US Food and Drugs Administration and the UK’s Public Health England which found vapor products to be fundamentally different from cigarettes.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bicameral conference committee report on Senate Bill No 2239 and House Bill No. 9007 last week. The measure seeks to regulate vaporized nicotine products and bans the sale of these products to minors.
Dr. Fernandez said vapor products will help save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers or at the very least reduce their health risks. In fact, Dr. Fernandez said those call for a vape ban may unwittingly be supporting smoking.
“Regulation and not prohibition is key. This is what the vape bill seeks to do. The Vape Bill is clearly a big win for public health. Those who would like to ban vaping may indirectly be supporting smoking. We don’t want that,” said Dr. Fernandez who has seen what smoking does for patients who develop oral cancer.
Dr. Reyes said banning vapor products, as some medical professionals wanted, would only worsen the smoking problem.
“I don’t agree that we should ban vapor products. If we do that, we will lose this public health opportunity to end the smoking epidemic. Let’s not forget, smoking kills close to 100,000 Filipino smokers every year. That is around 300 Filipinos per day. A ban on vapor products only perpetuates the use of cigarettes that endangers the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” said Dr. Reyes.
Dr. Christian Luna, medical director of the Tulay Lingap Ni Padre Pio Surgicenter, said cigarettes are the “real enemy” and that vapor products are less harmful alternatives that can help end the use of cigarettes in the Philippines.
Dr. Luna said the Philippine medical community is united in the fight against smoking. “Thus, the government should regulate, and not ban, alternatives to cigarettes that are proven to be less harmful whether it is a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, vapor products or heated tobacco products. I think this is what the Vape Bill aims to do and hence, I express support to this measure,” he said.
An eye doctor who lost several relatives and friends to smoking said alternatives are needed to help smokers. Dr. Romeo Luna Jr., president of the San Juan City Medical Center Staff Association, said the grim reality is that there are still 16 million Filipino smokers and many of them will not stop smoking.
“As a medical practitioner, it is my duty to give them an alternative to make them stop smoking. That’s why I support the passage of the Vape Bill because it is our best hope to stop the smoking epidemic,’’ said Dr. Luna.
Dr. Telesforo Gana, past president of the Philippine Urological Association and past chairman of the Philippine Board of Urology, said he himself managed to quit smoking, with the help of vapor products.
“It took me a very long time to stop smoking. Without vapor products, I would not have been able to fully stop. The reality is many smokers will try to stop smoking, but will never be successful. That is what the WHO [World Health Organization] data says,” Dr. Gana said.
“Smoker’s lives matter too. We should not look at them as statistics. We need to have pragmatic solution to end the smoking epidemic. I hope the Vape Bill can be that solution so we can save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” he said.
On the question about possible abuse by minors, Dr. Reyes said, “There is no debate that vapor products should not be sold to minors or non-smokers and that this should be properly regulated. Hence, I fully support the inclusion of all necessary safeguards in the Vape Bill to protect minors and non-smokers,” said Dr. Reyes.
Both Senate Bill No 2239 and House Bill No. 9007 ban the sale of vapor products to minors and impose fine and imprisonment for violators.
The Vape Bill is described as the first comprehensive legislation to regulate vape products that will provide 16 million Filipino smokers with alternatives to smoking while laying out strict safeguards to ensure that minors and non-smokers do not have access to these products.
According to a survey conducted by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, 94 percent of Filipino support policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives. ACORN is the largest independent Asian research network.