A group of medical and scientific experts asked President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to sign the vape bill into law to help 16 million Filipino smokers quit and reduce the number of deaths and sicknesses due to smoking.
In a letter addressed to the President through Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez on July 8, 2022, a group of medical practitioners, healthcare professionals, academicians, researchers, and experts in various scientific fields called for the enactment of the vape bill as the Philippines’ first comprehensive law to regulate vapor products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
Signatories include medical practitioners and healthcare professionals who have been treating patients for various smoking-related diseases for many years as well as members of the scientific community including Dr. Jose Dante Dator, former executive director of National Kidney and Transplant Institute; Dr. Rafael Castillo, past president of Philippine Heart Association and Asia Pacific Society of Hypertension; Dr. Arleen Reyes, past president of Philippine Dental Association; Dr. Romeo Luna Jr., president of San Juan Medical Center Staff Association; Dr. Telesforo Gana, past president of Philippine Urological Association; Dr. Fernando Fernandez, past president of Philippine College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons; Dr. Howard Enriquez, past president of Philippine Society of Otolaryngology; and Dr. Alvin Laxamana, past president of Philippine Dental Association.
Dr. Assunta Mendoza, past chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology of Manila Medical Center; Dr. Christian Luna, medical director of Tulay Lingap Ni Padre Pio Surgicenter; harm reduction advocate Dr. Lorenzo Mata Jr., president of Quit for Good; Dr. Carlo Nofuente of Calamba Doctors’ Hospital; Dr. Benjamin Abela Jr.; Dr. Erick de Castro of First Cabuyao Hospital and Medical Center; Dr. Christine Therese Santos, an ophthalmologist; Dr. John Hector Pagdanganan of Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital; Dr. Benlor Buendia of Angeles Medical Center; Dr. Erwin Enrique of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Medical Center; Dr. Mark Santiago of Mother Theresa of Calcutta Medical Center and urologist and research investigator Dr. Rogelio Varela Jr. also signed the letter.
The list also includes other health professionals, professors and researchers, chemical engineers, professional fitness trainers, physicists and environmental management specialists.
“We believe the passage of the Vape Bill will be a historic milestone that will become part of your administration’s legacy. Once enacted into law, it will reinforce the concerted efforts to end the smoking epidemic once and for all, and help save countless lives,” the signatories said in the letter.
“The potential benefits of saving, or at the very least enhancing the quality of lives and improving long-term outcomes of smokers, with this bill once enacted into law, is a big opportunity we could not afford to lose,” they said.
The vape bill is a reconciled version of Senate Bill No. 2239 or the “Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act” and House Bill No. 9007 or the “Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery Systems Regulation Act”.
“We believe that it could help mitigate the serious health risks and possibly save the lives of more than 16 million current Filipino smokers who are at very high risk from getting sick and dying due to smoking-related complications,” they said in the letter.
The experts clarified that all of them are against tobacco smoking, and many of them are staunch advocates and supporters of anti-smoking campaigns and any initiative that could help smoker-patients quit smoking.
“It is indisputable that smoking kills. The reality today in the Philippines is that there are approximately 110,000 Filipinos that die every year from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, and heart attack to name a few. That is roughly 300 Filipinos dying every day from smoking-related diseases. These are deaths that may have been prevented, if only they were given viable alternatives,” they said.
“We are referring to smoking alternatives like vape products that could, at the very least, help mitigate the risks of serious smoking-related complications,” they said.
The latest data from the Department of Health show that there are more than 16 million Filipinos who continue to smoke cigarettes, and many of them are recalcitrant smokers who simply could not stop smoking despite joint efforts by themselves and their physicians at complete smoking cessation.
The World Health Organization revealed that only 4 percent of all Filipino smokers quit every year. Experts said this would take roughly another 25 years for all of the 16 million Filipino smokers to stop smoking—on the assumption that there will be no new smokers for the next 25 years.
“Mr. President, we all agree that we must exert all efforts to save as many smokers’ lives as we can. Passing into law the vape bill is a significant starting point and a definitive step in the right direction to drastically reduce the number of smokers and the resulting deaths. Hopefully, it could help with our ultimate objective of making smokers quit for good,” the letter stated.
The medical and scientific experts said vaping is a viable alternative and a pragmatic solution to convince smokers to stop smoking. “While there is no debate that vaping is not completely safe and still contains harmful chemicals, it is also indisputable that it is far less harmful than continued smoking—as concluded by numerous public scientific data and studies around the world. Vape products also contain far less harmful chemicals compared to cigarettes,” they said.
Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland have established a regulatory framework to regulate, and not ban, vape products to convince smokers to stop smoking. “We should adopt this approach with the passage of the vape bill,” the experts said in the letter.
A scientific study using the randomized controlled trial method, which is the gold standard for any scientific clinical study, conducted by the UK government and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019 concluded that vape products were twice as effective in making people stop smoking compared to nicotine replacement therapies.
In another scientific study conducted by leading public health experts in the US, where there are around 38 million smokers, it was estimated that the “replacement of most cigarette use by e-cigarette use over a 10-year period could yield up to 6.6 million fewer premature deaths with 86.7 million fewer life years lost”.
“The bottom line is that vaping can help smokers stop smoking and in the process reduce the number of deaths and sickness due to smoking,” the letter read.
The medical and scientific community also expressed their support for the provisions in the vape bill that prohibit minors from accessing these products as well as banning flavor descriptors that appeal to minors.
“There is no debate that these products should not be sold to minors or non-smokers. Thus, we welcome the inclusion of penal provisions in the vape bill to add more teeth for its proper enforcement,” they said.
The signatories said an overwhelming majority of the public favors government policies that encourage shift to less harmful smoking alternatives. A recent survey conducted by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network, has shown that 94 percent of Filipinos agree that the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives.