25 November 2020
The World Health Organization has warned that all forms of tobacco, including heated tobacco products (HTP), are harmful and that e-cigarettes are undoubtedly harmful. Worryingly, the Global Youth Tobacco Surveys (GYTS) show increasing youth exposure and use of these electronic smoking devices (ESD) in many countries. Unfortunately, these products are freely promoted and sold online, making them accessible to young people. In the Philippines, 20% of e-cigarette users are aged 10 to 19 years old. It is therefore vital that ESDs be strictly regulated by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Recently, vested interest groups have called into question the integrity and independence of the FDA to regulate ESDs, such as e-cigarettes and HTPs. Clearly, those groups are biased in their opinions against the FDA, even to the extent of accusing FDA of corruption, as those groups include manufacturers and retailers of ESDs, as well as self-proclaimed consumer groups with links to the tobacco industry.
The FDA, however, has more than 50 years of expertise, experience, and standards setting in safeguarding the health and safety of all Filipinos. We therefore have full confidence in the FDA’s ability to regulate ESDs and uphold the highest standards of health to protect all Filipinos from the harms of ESDs. Given its expertise, the FDA is already mandated by law under RA 11467 as the appropriate agency to regulate new tobacco products such as ESDs. In this regard, questioning the FDA’s authority and integrity seriously undermines the ability of the FDA to do its job of protecting public health.
Those same vested interest groups are irresponsibly promoting ESDs as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes, reminiscent of how tobacco companies promoted cigarette filters and “light” or “low tar” cigarettes to give false reassurances to smokers that such innovations reduced their risk of health harms. This is misleading information and must be stopped. The evidence is clear that ESDs produce and emit chemical aerosols that contain very much the same toxic chemicals as cigarette smoke, and although the concentrations of these toxins and carcinogens may be lower in ESD aerosols compared with cigarette smoke, there are no long-term studies showing a reduced risk of health harms because of reduced exposure.
Smokers have a right to the highest standard of health and to be free from their tobacco addiction; they should be helped to genuinely quit smoking and not be misled to substitute one harmful product with another harmful product.
Currently, the tobacco pandemic claims more than 117,000 Filipino lives and over 8 million lives globally every year. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should act proactively to prevent a new nicotine epidemic before it takes root, one that threatens to prolong rather than end the current tobacco pandemic.##
- Today’s teens, tomorrow’s customers: Baiting youths with new tobacco products to create a new generation of addicts – https://seatca.org/dmdocuments/WNTD 2020 report-SEATCA-Final.pdf
- WHO Tobacco Fact Sheet – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco
- E-cigarettes ‘undoubtedly harmful’ says WHO – https://technology.inquirer.net/89438/p2fb-who-says-e-cigarettes-undoubtedly-harmful
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.