Philippines to benefit from regulation of less harmful cigarette options, say experts

Published March 7, 2022, 1:41 PM

by Manila Bulletin

The Philippines public heath will benefit substantially from the enactment of the vape bill that regulates alternatives to cigarettes, as scientific studies show that vaping is at least 25 times less harmful than traditional tobacco products, according to international experts.

“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,” said Prof. David Nutt of the Imperial College of London.

Several academic and research experts including Prof. Nutt, Prof. David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa, Prof. Peter Hajek of the Queen Mary University of London and Dr. Tom Glynn of Stanford University’s School of Medicine expressed support for the regulation of vaping and heated tobacco products (HTPs) as safer alternatives to cigarettes.

They are referring to approval by the Senate and House of Representatives of the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act. The bill, which aims to regulate e-cigarettes (EC) or vapes, HTPs, and other non-combustion products that are considered less harmful than traditional cigarettes, is expected to be signed into by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Prof. Nutt, who teaches Neuropsychopharmacology and is the director of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College of London, said concerns that young people who take up vaping would be driven to smoking cigarettes were unfounded.

“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,” he said.

Prof. Nutt said clinical studies show that cigarette smokers who switch to vaping eventually see their health improve.

Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, said the vape bill could unleash a public health revolution to save the lives of many Filipino smokers. “President Duterte can embolden entrepreneurs and empower consumers to unleash a public health revolution by signing the vaping law,” he said.

He cited examples from around the world that non-combustion products such as e-cigarettes and HTPs can substitute for 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.

For his part, Prof. Hajek, whose research was published in over 300 publications and contributed to global anti-smoking policies, said e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products pose only a small fraction of risks of smoking and have the potential to make smoking obsolete, which would have a profound beneficial impact on public health.

“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 Queen Mary University of London.

He said vapes have been shown to help smokers quit in clinical trials when provided proactively. “Population data suggest they also help smokers who purchase them as a consumer product. The increase in 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 help smokers quit and have the potential to replace cigarettes on the population scale,” said Prof. Hajek.

Prof. Hajek said 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.

Meanwhile, Dr. Glynn noted the 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 this 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.

The World Health Organization estimated that 17 million Filipinos continue to smoke cigarettes. About 100,000 of smokers in the Philippines die of smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease each year.

Amid this worrying scenario, many Filipinos believe 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.

 
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