The Department of Health (DOH) should look at all the available scientific data supporting the use of alternative tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or “vapes”), as tobacco harm reduction measures that would benefit the estimated 20 million Filipino smokers in the country.
This was the key message of Tom Pinlac, President of the consumer advocacy group The Vapers Philippines, when he spoke recently during the 1st Asia Harm Reduction Forum held in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 8-9, 2017. The regional forum gathered health practitioners, policy makers, academics and consumers from Australia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand who exchanged insights on tobacco harm reduction. It was organized by the Indonesia Public Health Observer Organization (Yayasan Pemerhati Kesehatan Publik or YPKP), a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting public awareness on health issues in Indonesia.
Appropriate e-cigarettes regulation, local research will benefit Filipinos
Speaking as one of the panelists in the session “The Search for Less Harmful Alternatives – Consumers’ Perspective”, Pinlac told delegates that the Philippine vaping community and industry currently practice self-regulation, with the Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association (PECIA) policing its own ranks to ensure that its members strictly observe their Code of Conduct. He urged the Philippine government to create an appropriate local regulatory framework for e-cigarettes in order to protect the interests of the local vaping community as consumers and taxpayers.
Pinlac thanked the Philippine government for not including vaping in Executive Order 26, which restricts smoking in enclosed public places nationwide. However, he denounced the DOH for seeking to ban e-cigarettes and vaping based on flawed information from the World Health Organization (WHO). Pinlac also underscored the need to conduct local studies in order to support independent research done in other countries showing that vaping is a less harmful alternative to tobacco smoking.
Huge health benefits for Asian countries
Harm reduction is a public health strategy designed to lessen the negative social and/or physical consequences of various human behaviors. Tobacco harm reduction refers to the development of innovative products that can reduce the negative health effects of tobacco cigarettes. Alternative tobacco products include e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, snus, and heat-not-burn tobacco products.
In his opening remarks during the 1st Asia Harm Reduction Forum, YPKP Founder and Chairman Prof. Dr. Achmad Syawqie Yazid revealed that over 57 million Indonesians are smokers, giving Indonesia the dubious reputation as a country with one of the highest smoking rates in the world. “Today, Asia has the largest number of cigarette smokers in the world. Despite implementing various anti-tobacco policies, smoking rates in the region have stopped declining,” lamented Yazid.
In contrast, in countries that promote the use of e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products, smoking prevalence has been declining at record speeds, Yazid noted. In the UK 2.2 million smokers have quit smoking in the last five years while Japan has registered the fastest drop in cigarette use for the last two years. The US Food and Drug Administration announced this year that its anti-tobacco regulation would be fully geared towards harm reduction while the New Zealand Ministry of Health endorsed the use of e-cigarettes just this month.
Yazid cited a recent study by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington D.C., which showed that switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes over a 10-year period would save approximately 6.6 million Americans from premature death. “If the study’s projection is applied to the Indonesian or Asian setting, up to 20 million lives could be saved from premature death due to smoking.”
This is why YPKP has dedicated extensive research on alternative tobacco and nicotine products as potentially the best solution to reduce harm caused by tobacco smoking, according to Yazid. “If new policies that encourage harm-reduced alternatives are adopted, the public health benefits could be unprecedented, particularly in Asian countries where smoking rates are high. Indonesians could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of tobacco harm reduction policies.”
Yazid urged governments of Asian countries to create policies and regulations that would encourage smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco products. “Regulators need to catch up with and understand the science behind technological advancements in the field of tobacco harm reduction, which has the potential to yield huge health benefits.”
Policies should be evidence-based
Forum delegates shared Yazid’s sentiments. They encouraged governments in the region to continue conducting research on alternative tobacco products and to be more sensitive to public interest in reducing the risk of cigarette consumption. Delegates discussed efforts to find alternative solutions to health problems caused by cigarettes, describing the matter as an urgent concern that must be addressed immediately given that more than half of the world’s cigarette consumers are in Asia.
Consumer groups, including The Vapers Philippines, urged governments in the region to regulate alternative tobacco products to ensure safety standards are adhered to during production and distribution. They also admonished governments not to ban alternative tobacco products without sound scientific basis and advised them to instead consider the UK model that promotes the use of alternative tobacco products, a policy that has resulted in an unprecedented reduction in smoking rates in the country.
“YPKP is honored to host the 1st Asia Harm Reduction Forum,” said Yazid. “The insights and outcomes generated in this forum will contribute to reducing healthcare costs due to smoking and help save many lives in Asia.”
The forum featured two other panel sessions: “Tobacco Harm Reduction Landscape: Global and Asian Policy Perspective” and “Validating the Science behind Tobacco Harm Reduction: Scientific Perspective”.
In his keynote speech, Greek cardiologist and renowned e-cigarette expert Dr. Konstantinos E. Farsalinos discussed how alternative tobacco products could potentially save millions of lives. “We have conducted studies on the harmful effects of e-cigarette vapor on brain cells and the direct consumption effects on the human heart’s functions and blood circulation. Results show that the negative effects caused by e-cigarette vapor are much lower than smoke from burning tobacco.”