Philippines: Former health execs join clamor to junk vape bill

27 October 2021

Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco. Source: Business Mirror

Stressing that it is a huge step backward in protecting the health of Filipinos, health experts, youth groups, and other non-government organizations (NGOs) have called on the Senate to listen to the people and to junk the vape bill now.

Vapes and e-cigarettes are common names for electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS/ENNDS) and heated tobacco products (HTPs), which are covered by the Vape Bill or the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act (SBN 2239), authored by Sen. Ralph Recto.

The latest Pulse Asia survey showed that 62 percent of adult Filipinos will support a proposed bill that will ban the availability and accessibility of e-cigarette or vape flavors that appeal to children and youth.

Conducted from September 6 to 11, 2021, the nationwide survey, which was based on face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adult Filipinos or those aged 18 and above, also showed, 96 percent do not use e-cigarettes or vaping devices. The survey used a ± 3 percent error margin.

Survey results

In the National Capital Region (NCR), 95 percent (using a ± 6 percent error margin and 300 respondents) do not use e-cigarettes and vapes, 98 percent in Balance Luzon, 88 percent in Visayas, and 98 percent in Mindanao. There are 0.4 percent who are former daily users, 1 percent occasional users (less that daily), 5 percent used or tried it sometime while 89 percent never tried e-cigarettes or vaping devices.

Sixty-eight percent in the NCR will support a proposed bill that will ban the availability and accessibility of e-cigarette or vape flavors that appeal to children and the youth like cotton candy and fruit flavors, 61 percent in Balance Luzon, 43 percent in Visayas, and 75 percent in Mindanao.

Four percent of the 1,200 respondents are current e-cigarette or vaping device users, 3 percent daily users, 1 percent occasional (formerly daily), and 1 percent occasional (never daily).

Of those (or four percent) who were surveyed who used e-cigarettes or vaping devices, 66 percent said they would support a proposed bill that will ban e-cigarette or flavored vapes, 54 percent truly support, 12 percent somewhat support, 15 percent cannot say if supporting or not, 19 percent will not support, 16 percent somewhat support, and three percent will truly not support.

Support for bill

Meanwhile, of those (96 percent) who do not use e-cigarettes or vaping devices, 62 percent said that they will support such a bill, 46 percent will truly support, 15 percent will somewhat support, 17 percent undecided, 20 percent will not support, 8 percent somewhat not support, and 12 percent will truly not support.

On policy restrictions in the accessibility to e-cigarettes or vapes at 21 years old and above, it got 70 percent support, 51 percent truly support, 19 percent somewhat support, 14 percent undecided, 15 percent not supporting, 7 percent somewhat not to support, and 8 percent will not truly support.

The survey also showed that 77 percent are aware of the serious health hazards of e-cigarettes or vapes, 15 percent are aware of minor hazards, 2 percent believe that there are no health hazards at all, while 6 percent don’t know/refused.

Seventy-four percent have expressed support of a 100 percent e-cigarette or vape-free policy in public places.

Calls to junk the Vape Bill

Medical groups, youth groups and NGOs like HealthJustice Philippines are strongly against the lowering of the age limit for the sale of smoking devices from 21 years old to 18 years old and to allow vaping in public places, schools, and other business establishments.

They are also against the easing of restrictions on the use of flavorings on vapes as well as the deregulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Likewise, seven former health secretaries have the joined calls for the Senate to junk the Vape Bill.

“The Vape Bill is a huge step backward in protecting Filipinos’ health. It is a danger, especially in a pandemic,” according to former health secretaries Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, Dr. Manuel Dayrit, Dr. Enrique Ona, Dr. Carmencita Reodica, Dr. Paulyn Ubial, and Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan.

Relaxes provisions

The former health secretaries noted that the Vape Bill relaxes the provisions of RA 11467, an existing law that strictly regulates the said products. The bill lowers the age of access to vapes and e-cigarettes from 21 to 18 and transfers regulatory jurisdiction from the FDA to DTI. The bill also reverses a ban on flavors (except menthol and tobacco) and allows sales online.

“By lowering the age of access from 21 to 18, the Vape Bill exposes more of our youth, those who are still in senior high or about to enter college, to HTPs and e-cigarettes,” said Galvez-Tan.

Galvez-Tan, a trustee of HealthJustice Philippines, asked, “Why are we exposing them to this risk when under our laws, we are already protecting them?”

For her part, Reodica said that the senators should listen to health experts “at this crucial time.” “The medical community already explained that nicotine exposure at a young age impairs maximum development of the brain, making the youth vulnerable to engaging in harmful habits that are hard to break,” Reodica added.

Data support

Meanwhile, Ubial said that “data on the use of vapes and e-cigarettes among the youth show that we should be strengthening, and not relaxing our policies on these products.”

Ubial cited the results of the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, which show that one in seven Filipino students aged 13 to 15 use e-cigarettes. The GYTS also shows that one in eight Filipino students aged 13 to 15 currently use tobacco products.

“If our Senators pass this Vape Bill, it shows that they are gambling with the lives of our youth and children, and would rather prioritize the interests of the vape and tobacco industry rather than the health of our people during a pandemic,” Ubial said.

For his part, Dayrit also hit the bill’s reversal of the ban on flavors.

“Allowing more flavors for these harmful products does not make sense,” he said.

“There are around 16,000 vape and e-cigarette flavors on the market right now, and we know children and youth are more attracted to flavors. Regulations should aim to make these harmful products less appealing, not more enticing,” he added.

Cessation tools

Bengzon, meanwhile said: “If the industry is sincere in promoting these products as supposed ‘cessation tools’ for smoking, then why do the provisions of the Vape Bill treat these products as normal consumer products? Why not treat these the same way as other cessation tools, treated as medical and pharmaceutical products under the jurisdiction of the FDA?”

“The best way to curb smoking is still to quit, not shift,” said Ona.

Echoing the calls of medical groups, Ona stressed that smokers should not replace one addiction with another addiction, especially in the context of CAovid-19.

“Let’s not forget that the first case of EVALI [e-cigarette and vape associated lung injury] was already reported in the Philippines. Passing the Vape Bill will only increase our public health burdens,” he said.

Cabral, on the other hand, stressed, “We do not need a harmful Vape Bill to be passed in a pandemic. We do not need this Bill. We urge our Senators to junk this Vape Bill and prioritize other far more urgent health measures.”