Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics
MANILA — The enactment of the vape bill in the Philippines, which aims to regulate smoke-free nicotine products, will unleash a public health revolution that will save the lives of many smokers, according to international academic and research experts.
“President (Rodrigo) Duterte can embolden entrepreneurs and empower consumers to unleash a public health revolution by signing the vaping law,” said Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.
Prof. Sweanor, Prof. David Nutt of the Imperial College of London, Prof. Peter Hajek of the Queen Mary University of London, and Dr. Tom Glynn of Stanford University’s School of Medicine are among the international experts who expressed support for the approval of the vaping bill which is designed to provide Filipino smokers with less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
The bill, which was earlier ratified by the Senate and House of Representatives, is now awaiting the signature of the President. It aims to regulate e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs), and other non-combustion products that are considered less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
Prof. Sweanor said there are examples from around the world that non-combustion products can substitute 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,” he said.
Prof. Nutt agreed, saying 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.
He also dismissed fears over concerns that young people who take up vaping would be driven to smoke cigarettes.
“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 Prof. Nutt, who teaches Neuropsychopharmacology and serves as the director of Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College of London.
He said that based on clinical studies, cigarette smokers who switched to vaping eventually saw their health improve.
Meanwhile, e-cigarettes (EC) or vapes and HTPs pose only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and have the potential to make smoking obsolete, which would have a profound beneficial impact on public health, according to Prof. Hajek, whose research was published in over 300 publications and contributed to global anti-smoking policies.
“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 Prof. Hajek, who is the director of Health and Lifestyle Research Unit at Wolfson Institute of Population Health of the Queen Mary University of London.
Senators and congressmen said the vaping bill provides strong prohibitions on the use of smoke-free products by minors. It bans the sale to and marketing initiatives targeting or appealing to minors and imposes hefty fines and imprisonment for non-compliance.
E-cigarettes have been shown to help smokers quit in clinical trials when provided proactively, according to Prof. Hajek. “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,” said Prof. Hajek.
“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,” he said.
Dr. Glynn said there was truly astounding progress in reducing the death and disease caused by cigarette smoking in recent years, made possible by the joint efforts of scientists, public health experts, and other groups.
“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 that strays away from science.
“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.
Data show that 17 million Filipinos continue to smoke cigarettes, and more than 100,000 of them die of smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease each year.
Most Filipino respondents agree that the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives, according to a survey conducted last year by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network. (ai/mtvn)