Tobacco harm reduction advocates in the country, which include The Vapers Philippines and the Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association (PECIA), face an uphill battle. Although we have always strived to elevate the level of discourse on e-cigarettes by presenting scientific evidence from independent studies and experts, government agencies such as the DOH and other groups opposed to e-cigarettes continue to churn out inaccurate information and resort to fear mongering and propaganda, refusing to even consider the growing body of scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes are overwhelmingly less harmful than conventional cigarettes and can help smokers quit. Faced with such daunting challenges, we sometimes get frustrated and disheartened.
A commentary published recently in the Australian newspaper Herald Sun has raised my spirits. But first, a little backgrounder. While other countries around the world have legalized nicotine-containing e-cigarettes because these are seen as significantly less harmful for smokers than traditional cigarettes, Australia has created a regulatory framework that allows the sale of nicotine for obviously harmful tobacco products but not for a product that is widely regarded as less harmful. The Australian parliament is currently inquiring into the use and marketing of e-cigarettes to weigh the pros and cons of legalizing e-cigarettes. Not surprisingly, tobacco control activists in Australia want to retain the country’s existing tobacco regulatory framework to prevent the legalization of e-cigarettes.
Written by James Paterson, a liberal senator from the Australian state of Victoria, the riveting commentary echoes the arguments of The Vapers and PECIA in convincing misguided tobacco control advocates to let go of their stubborn belief that the only way to reduce smoking is for smokers to “quit or die” and embrace new technologies, such as e-cigarettes, that have the potential to reduce smoking-related harms. Citing the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Paterson said that whereas the reduction in smoking rates in Australia have stalled in recent years, smoking rates in the United Kingdom and United States—two countries where e-cigarettes are legal and fast gaining popularity—have fallen considerably.
Paterson, as The Vapers and PECIA did, cited the 2015 independent evidence review by Public Health England and 2016 Royal College of Physicians report, which both concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking and that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people in the UK.
“The UK Government considers the evidence in favor of e-cigarettes to be so overwhelming that its new Tobacco Control Plan pledges to ‘maximize the availability of safer alternatives to smoking’ such as e-cigarettes,” writes Paterson. “That is the approach Australia should adopt. If we demand definitive proof that e-cigarettes are harmless, we will prevent potentially thousands of people from switching from traditional smoking to a far safer alternative.”
This is likewise the approach that the Philippines should adopt. We laud and support AKO BICOL Party List Representatives Rodel Batocabe, Alfredo Garbin, Jr. and Christopher Co who filed House Bill No. 3330, which aims to create an appropriate regulatory framework for e-cigarettes that is different from the regulation of tobacco cigarettes. In their explanatory note, they cited—yet again!—the 2016 Royal College of Physicians report finding that “e-cigarettes are a less harmful form of nicotine delivery system that can be an effective tool in harm reduction as well as a gateway to smoking reduction and cessation.”
According to the HB 3330 authors, the current regulatory framework that categorizes e-cigarettes as “health-related devices” will increase the cost of e-cigarettes and other vaporized nicotine products, which would make conventional tobacco cigarettes more appealing. This framework “will kill the fledgling e-cigarette industry, negate the prospect of harm reduction for the smoking public, and discourage smokers from switching to safer alternatives.” The authors stressed that e-cigarettes should be regulated differently from tobacco cigarettes, as not doing so would send “a misleading message that e-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco cigarettes.”
We appeal to Committee on Health chairperson Representative Angelina Tan to act on HB 3330, which has been pending with the committee since August 2016. This important bill could help millions of Filipino smokers cut down or even quit their dangerous addiction and ultimately save their lives.
– Tom Pinlac
President of the Vapers Philippines and Healthcare Industry Executive