18 October 2019
MANILA, Philippines – Despite a legal setback, the Department of Health (DOH) will continue to campaign and raise public awareness on the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
The agency, during a press conference yesterday, officially recognized that Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) gadgets, also known as e-cigarettes or vapes, cause diseases.
“Electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products are sold in the market as alternatives for smokers trying to wean themselves off tobacco. (But) these products endanger the health of both users and non-users, and are clearly not meant for children,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
To monitor the prevalence of e-cigarette-related diseases in the country, he said all public and private hospitals as well as health professionals would start recording the history of tobacco and e-cigarette use among patients, especially those with respiratory illnesses.
All acutely ill patients who have used e-cigarettes in the last 90 days, with other plausible causes for illness, will be recorded as cases of vaping-related disease.
Duque said the data to be gathered from the hospitals would be used for future policy directions for electronic gadgets.
“Health professionals will now make diagnosis of vaping-related illness in the same way patients suffering from other illness are diagnosed,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo explained.
He said e-cigarette users might suffer from difficulty in breathing, asthmatic attack, allergic reactions and even destruction of lung tissues that may require them to be placed on ventilator.
“We still do not know how the mechanism causes illness but we know that the illness is related to vaping,” Domingo said while noting that, in the US, vaping has been confirmed to have caused 26 deaths.
He added that some people using e-cigarette may think it is safe and may not be able to correlate an illness to the use of the electronic gadget. “So, we are advising them, if they observe any symptoms after vape use, please seek medical consultation.”
Domingo said that despite its harmful effects, the ENDS continues to be readily accessible to minors or children. Thus, the DOH is considering the possibility of prohibiting the use of ENDS after a Pasig court issued an injunction preventing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from regulating the manufacture, distribution and use of e-cigarette.
At this time, he pointed out, the DOH is working with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Finance (DOF) to just restrict the use of vapes among young people.
“Now that we are just regulating, they are making it difficult for us (by filing an injunction petition). So, we are thinking if an outright ban may be the appropriate approach,” Domingo said.
Duque said the DOH is getting lawyers to seek the immediate lifting of the temporary injunction order that prevents the government from regulating the sale and use of e-cigarettes in the country.
“This a temporary setback in our campaign admittedly, but we will fight it out and convince the court on the need to regulate e-cigarette. This is not just a legal issue, it is a health issue,” he stressed.
Acting on the petition of e-cigarette manufacturers, a Pasig court stopped the FDA from implementing an administrative order regulating manufacture, distribution and use of vapes.
Domingo said the FDA has granted license to operate to some of the 150 e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers who applied for registration with the agency. But the registration process has been stopped while the injunction is in effect.
“We hope to quickly resolve the case,” he added as he stressed that the DOH wants to keep ENDS away from young people who might get addicted to it.
He also said that “apparently the e-cigarette industry does not want to be regulated and restricted from selling the harmful products to young people.”
“There are some local government units that have banned use of e-cigarette, but we want a more comprehensive regulatory framework so the FDA issued an administrative order,” Domingo pointed out.
He said the liquid being used in vapes could cause acute poisoning and could also be addictive, thus the FDA prohibits sale and use to minors.
Different groups of medical practitioners are pushing for prohibition on the sale and use of e-cigarette due to health risks associated to its use.
The Philippine College of Chest Physicians and Philippine Academy of Physicians said the government should ban the sale and use of e-cigarettes for the protection of public health.
But pediatrician Rizalina Gonzales said there is no actual data on the number of vape-related diseases and deaths in the country, although “there are anecdotal reports” of children suffering from vape-related illnesses.
She also said that last year an infant was reported to have died from multiple abnormalities. Both of the infant’s parents were vape users.