DOH, experts push for plain packaging on vapes, cigarettes

1 June 2024

By Sherylin Untalan, GMA Integrated News

The Department of Health on Friday said it was looking into standardized or plain packaging for cigarettes and vape products to reduce the number of vape users, especially among the youth.

“We have always wanted plain packaging; we don’t even want graphic warnings. We don’t want colors, we want them to be plain,” said DOH Assistant  Secretary Albert Domingo in a media forum.

“Alam niyo sa  ibang bansa, yung kanilang lalagyan ng sigarilyo at ngayon vape, alam  niyo ang kulay, kulay dumi. As in- dumi. Sinadya na yung pantone tone  para hindi siya kaaya-aya na bilhin, kasi kadiri e. Pag nakita mo yung  kulay ng dumi ng aso, bibili ka ba non?” he asked.

(You know, in other countries, their cigarette, and now vape boxes, have the same color as human excrement. That color was chosen on purpose so that it would not be enticing to buy since it is unpleasant. If you see the color of dog feces, would you buy it?)

He noted that having plain packaging would make the product less enticing for users.

“This is the standard na plain packaging kasi pag nilagyan mo ng warning, e  parang sinabi mo na may basbas pa. But then again, ang DOH po ay  sumusunod sa batas na aming ginawa. Kaya kami po ay humihiling na  i-amend ang Graphic Health Warnings Law,” Domingo said.

(This is the standard plain packaging because when you put a warning, it’s like you said there is still some sort of approval. But then again, the DOH follows the law we made. That is why we are requesting to amend the Graphic  Health Warnings Law.)

Meanwhile, Action on Smoking and Health  Philippines (ASH) Executive Director and Philippine College of  Physicians President Dr. Maricar Limpin said several medical associations are also pushing for standardized packaging.

“Ang gagawin po ay yung pakete, gagawing as plain as possible. Para maalis  yung mga kulay, kasi yung kulay parang ineenganyo pa yung mga tao na  magpatuloy na mag-sigarilyo,” she said.

(The package will be made as plain as possible. Remove the colors because colors seem to entice people to continue smoking cigarettes.)

She added that they also supported plain packaging on vape products.

“Pero kailangan nandon pa rin yung picture ng mga sakit na maaring makuha (sa pag-gamit). Yung picture should be seen at sana mas malaki. So we are  aiming for an 80% na mao-occupy nung health warning na nasa taas. Yan po sana yung pinupush naming amendment,” Dr. Limpin added.

(But there still needs to be a picture of the diseases that can be acquired when using them. The picture should be seen, and hopefully, we can make it bigger. So, we are aiming for the health warning to cover at least  80% of the packaging. That would be the amendment we would support.)

Based on a survey taken by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) in 2022, the Philippines was among the few ASEAN countries with the smallest graphic health warning, covering only 50% of the packaging.

The Philippines was also the only country whose warnings were placed at the bottom of the cigarette package.

In a separate interview, the non-government organization Health Justice Philippines called on the Food and Drug Administration to take the lead in regulating these products.

“We respect that the DTI is leading the regulation of vapor products. But that is something that we need to consider and seriously make the FDA be involved in regulating this,” said Health Justice Philippines Managing Director Ralph  Degollacion.

According to the SEATCA, two ASEAN countries  (Singapore and Thailand) have legislated standardized packaging,  requiring all tobacco products to be packaged in a standardized size,  shape, and drab brown color, free of any logos or images; only brand names will be allowed in a standardized font type, size, color, and location.

In the Philippines, a plain packaging bill (Senate  Bill No. 2191) was filed in the Senate in March 2019, but it was not passed.

EVALI

Meanwhie, the DOH said a 22-year-old Filipino male died of a heart attack following a severe lung injury, which was linked to his two years of daily vape usage.

DOH Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo stressed that e-cigarettes and vaping elevated the risk of acute myocardial infarction and stroke. The 22-year-old victim, with no known comorbidities, was brought to the emergency room in 2023.

According to Dr. Riz Gonzales of the Philippine Pediatric Society Tobacco and  Nicotine Control Advocacy Group, the case was among the only six recorded EVALI case as of May 2024.

EVALI is a serious inflammatory lung condition.

“This one is a 22-year-old male, healthy, sporty, walang bisyo. Pumunta sa PGH kasi  sumisikip ang dibdib tapos may ubo. Pagkita sa lungs niya, puti, ‘yung  tinatawag nating white out lung. In layman’s term, pwede nating sabihin  na parang nabura ‘yung clear lungs niya kasi binara nung mga vape  chemicals,” said Dr. Gonzales.

(This one is a 22-year-old male, healthy, sporty, and has no vices. He went to PGH because his chest was tight and was coughing. Upon seeing his lungs, it’s all white, which we call a white-out lung. In layman’s terms, we can say vape chemicals blocked his clear  lungs.)

In line with World No Tobacco Day, medical experts and youth leaders from around the world are calling on governments to act immediately and decisively to save another generation from being addicted to nicotine. 

Similarly, at the recent ASEAN Workshop on Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference, held in Bangkok, Thailand, Asian youth leaders reiterated the need for governments to work with the youth to effectively protect them from the tobacco industry.

“A truly healthy and sustainable future has no space for the tobacco industry and its harmful products. Governments must listen to the youth and work with them, harnessing their talents and passion as we fight this important battle for the health of all. Governments must stop listening to and engaging with the tobacco industry and its front groups, as we strive to build a tobacco-free future for our children and teens,” said SEATCA Executive Director Dr Ulysses Dorotheo. — DVM, GMA Integrated News