Philippines: Vape users among the youth on the rise–reports

10 August 2023

By Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco, BusinessMirror

Aljur and Anjoe, 14 and 17 years old respectively, started smoking at the age of 10.
Their exposure to cigarettes at an early age is now starting to take a toll on their bodies.
Now, the both of them say they now experience difficulty in breathing.

Despite this, they are unwilling to stop. In fact, both have shifted to using vapes as an alternative to cigarettes.

Both started vaping last year when vapes became more widely accessible and available.

Aljur has become dual user. When he has no money to buy vape juice, he smokes cigarettes. He said he consumes two packs of cigarettes a day. Anjoe has totally stopped smoking since last year and just vapes.

Despite the law that prohibits selling cigarettes to minors, sari-sari stores were not strict in implementing the law. They willingly sell to minors.

Aljur and Anjoe are both students who work at a fish port when classes are out.

On a good day, Aljur earns P1,100 while Anjoe takes home P2,500. Aljur gives P700 to his parents while Anjoe gives P1,500. They rest, they keep for themselves for personal expenses. Part of this is used to buy vape juice.

Their parents have scolded them and told them to stop vaping. But both of them ignored their parents’ advice.

Executive Order 106 prohibits vaping in public places, markets included. But the lax implementation of this order by the local government units makes it easy for vapers to vape in public areas.

One of seven Pinoys use e-cigs

There is an estimated 82 million vape users worldwide as reported by the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) in 2021, or an increase of 17 percent from the previous year.

The same data showed that as of 2021, some 2.7 million Filipinos belong to this group—or around three percent of the world’s vape users.

A study monitoring youth tobacco use also reveals worrying statistics on the prevalence of use, lax regulations, and wide availability of tobacco products including e-cigarettes.

The results of the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) revealed that there is a higher prevalence of the use of e-cigarettes than the use of any other tobacco products among Filipino students aged 13 to 15 years.

About 14.1 percent, or one in seven, students aged 13 to 15 said that they are currently using e-cigarettes.

Overall, about one in eight students of the same age group (12.5 percent) are currently using various tobacco products. One in four (24.5 percent), meanwhile, have tried using e-cigarettes.

The GYTS also revealed how easy it is for the youth to buy tobacco products in the country, with about two in five students who currently smoke (37 percent) saying that it was easy for them to buy tobacco products regardless of their age.

“The GYTS offers compelling evidence that cigarettes and other tobacco products are widely accessible to minors even when a law restricts access to these products,” said Romeo Dongeto, Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, the Convenor of Child Rights Network. “It is therefore, imperative, for government agencies to strictly implement the law to make sure that these harmful products cannot be accessed by children.”

Parents Against Vape, a nationwide organization of parents committed to protecting children and youth against the harms of vapes, agree.

“The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) must not – even for a day—waver on its commitment to monitoring the sale of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products that violate the restrictions on flavor descriptors and marketing strategies that directly cater to the youth and children. We laud DTI’s initial efforts on crackdown of illegal vape shops, but this should continue in the years to come,” said PAV president Imelda Esposado-Gocotano.

Address vape epidemic

In a joint statement, CRN and PAV said the vape epidemic among the children and the youth is “alarming” and urged the government education agencies to “take a more active role” in implementing the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act or RA 11900 and strengthen the recent administrative order issued by the DTI.

“Although the DTI issued an administrative order to implement the law, we firmly believe that the education agencies are in a more strategic position to address the vape epidemic among our youth,” CRN Convenor Dongeto said.

Nicotine is addictive

In an article authored by Michael Tan, a medical anthropologist, writer and academician, pointed out that vape liquid contains nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco.

“Vape manufacturers and other vape advocates say vaping helps nicotine addicts as they try to kick smoking. But it’s a crazy proposition for two reasons. First, there are other nicotine substitutes that are available and that have been approved by drug regulatory authorities. The substitutes come in ‘chewing gum’ format, as well as in skin patches. Second, the nicotine in vape products is addictive as well, and with young people as the target, the addictive potential is worst because young brains are quicker to get hooked on psychoactive substances,” Tan said in his article Turning the Nicotine Tide published last year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse affirmed this as it said “most smokers use tobacco regularly because they are addicted to nicotine.” The US Food and Drug Administration also noted that “tobacco products are addictive because they contain nicotine. Nicotine keeps people using tobacco products, even when they want to stop.”