A Filipino consumer advocate who participated in the 6th Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland is pushing for the fair regulation and taxation on electronic cigarettes and other safer nicotine products which can help smokers quit.
“What do consumers want? For me and the people who are trying to quit smoking, it is fair regulation of safer nicotine products. There should be accessibility, affordability and availability of these products,” Clarisse Virgino, a member of the Coalition of Asia-Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, said in one of the discussions during the forum.
More than 650 public health experts, academicians, industry executives and consumer advocates from 70 countries including the Philippines gathered in Warsaw to push for safer nicotine products in place of conventional cigarettes that are associated with many diseases.
Virgino, a law student, said she has been vaping for almost a decade after she discovered it to be the best way to quit cigarette smoking. She is now engaged in educating smokers on alternative products as well as the benefits in switching to these alternatives.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that in 2015, 16.6 million adults or 23.8 percent of the Philippine population were smokers. Of the total, 76.7 percent planned or were thinking about quitting, but only 4 percent were able to successfully quit.
“We want reasonable tax system and tax implementation so as not to impose a de facto ban on e-cigarettes as well as HNBs,” said Virgino. A proposal to tax e-cigarettes like tobacco products, she said, could prevent more Filipinos from quitting smoking.
Vape shops are currently allowed to operate stores inside and outside shopping malls in the Philippines and some sellers conduct business online.
The Department of Finance, however, proposed to tax “vapor products” progressively in line with the Sin Tax for Universal Health Care. Under a bill approved by Congress and now awaiting signature of President Duterte, the government will impose an excise tax of P10 on 10ml of e-liquid and lower. The tax will increase P10 for every additional 10 ml.
The Department of Health also maintained that e-cigarettes should be treated and regulated no differently than other tobacco products until these alternatives to smoking were proven safe for consumption.
“You see that there is already an issue because vape products are basically categorized as tobacco products,” said Virgino.
She said there is still hope because some senators aim to tax e-cigarettes lower after being informed that it helps people wean away from regular cigarette smoking.
An Australian doctor who also participated in the forum said safer nicotine products have the potential “to save hundreds of millions of lives”.
Angeles Muntadas-Prim, a vaping consumer advocate from Spain, said new technology in the form of e-cigarette device, “has liberated nicotine from smoke.”
Dr. Neal Benowitz, a professor of Medicine at University of California San Francisco, said the long-term nicotine use through e-cigarettes is much less harmful than cigarette smoking.
Dr. Peter Hajek, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in Queen Mary University of London, cited the results of a study showing the potential of using nicotine to help people stop smoking. “It has tremendous potential for public health,” he said.
Smoking prevalence has declined in countries where smokers switched to safer nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes, according to public health experts.
“We are moving away from the world of combustion. From internal combustion engines and cigarette combustion, we are moving to new ways of delivering energy and delivering pleasure,” said Prof. Gerry Stimson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the program director of the 6th Global Forum on Nicotine.
The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction Report 2018 states that the arrival of electronic cigarettes (vape) and heat-not-burn devices as well as the renewed interest in Swedish snus have disrupted the tobacco industry.
E-cigarettes are estimated to be 95-percent less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and they proved effective in making smokers switch, said Stimson.
Stimson said smokers are switching because cigarette smoking is the most dangerous and harmful way of consuming nicotine as the combustion process releases highly dangerous toxins. “The cigarette is a very dirty nicotine delivery system,” he said. It is the tar and gases from smoking and not nicotine that contains dangerous chemicals, he added.
“Half of those who smoke will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases. This means that about 6 million people die from smoking-related diseases every year,” he said.
“More people die from smoking cigarettes than from malaria, HIV and tuberculosis combined – and the World Health Organization estimates that by the end of the century, one billion people will have died from a smoking-related disease. This is a public health emergency on a global scale. It’s essential that people around the world have access to and are positively encouraged to switch away from cigarettes to safer nicotine products,” said Stimson.
Dr. Riccardo Polosa, a professor of Internal Medicine at University of Catania in Italy, said: “Studies clearly show that those people who make the switch away from cigarettes to exclusively non-combustible nicotine products experience the same health benefits as those people who quit smoking.”
“We did a number of studies on COPD, asthma and other respiratory diseases and it clearly showed up to 50-percent reduction in respiratory exacerbation rate which is amazing. You cannot get that level of reduction even with antibiotics,” he said.
Polosa said that vaping is not a form of smoking. “Tobacco smoke contains tar, while aerosol from electronic cigarette does not contain any tar. Tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals while aerosol from electronic cigarette emission has only 150 chemicals that today have not shown any major harmful effect,” he said.
“These products are becoming safer all the time; this is an area in which innovation can and is occurring. The potential improvement in individual quality of life offered by safer nicotine products as well as the wider population health benefits, are immense,” said Polosa.
Public Health England reported in 2015 that e-cigarettes are 95-percent less harmful than smoking, as the harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke are either not in EC vapor or only found at much lower levels.