WHILE some highly developed and small nations have already controlled smoking prevalence in their countries, emerging economies like the Philippines are on the right track to achieve this goal, according to advocates of Global Tobacco Harm Reduction.
Vaporized nicotine products or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are considered a better alternative to quick smoking. Since withdrawal of such a bad vice is kind of hard, however, these innovative replacements to have the last puff were initially not well received internationally.
Martin Culliip, a former chairman of The New Nicotine Alliance, cited, for instance, the United Kingdom government that tried to ban vaping for 20 days in 2010.
“It was the consumers who [called to] stop doing that. Since then, they’ve seen the benefits of harm reduction, and the government’s whole tobacco control policy centers around vaping,” he told reporters during the recent sixth edition of the Asia Harm Reduction Forum (AHRF) in Manila.
The same holds true for Latin American countries where these substitutes to cigarette are found to be effective in the prevention of widespread smoking. In fact, more than 110 entities related to research, ministries of health, and governments have declared that these products are vastly safer than combustible tobacco, per social media and marketing expert Jeffrey Zamora.
“So that means that there’s a huge potential for public health benefits,” he said, while referring to First World economies that are quite successful in kicking their cigarette butts. “Countries like the UK, New Zealand, France and Sweden are almost smoke-free with just 5.5 percent to 6 percent prevalence of tobacco smoking. So they’re approaching already the goal of a smoke-free country that is less than 5 percent that is set by the WHO [World Health Organization].”
Heading in the right direction
FOLLOWING the footsteps of these economic giants is the Philippines, which saw the enactment last year of the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, or Republic Act (RA) 11900.
Commonly referred to as the Vape Law, it includes provisions mandating the registration of vaporized nicotine products with the Department of Trade and Industry before their public sale, importation, or manufacture. It also prohibits the public sale or distribution of items that do not adhere to the tax and registration requirements set by the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
RA 11900 was enacted to protect not only the health of the consumers but also that of the burgeoning vape sector. A study from Statista shows the e-cigarette segment in the Philippines is projected to grow by 2.42 percent from 2023 to 2027, resulting in a market volume of around $265 million in the next four years.
The industry is on track to achieve this given the strong market demand. Based on the Global Adult Tobacco Survey in the Philippines a couple of years ago, the current users of e-cigarettes increased from 0.8 percent in 2015 to 2.1 percent in 2021.
“We believe that the regulatory framework is still a key for a balance on the relationship between the government and the industry. We have to follow product standards or quality control parameters in order to ensure the safety of electronic cigarettes and electronic heated tobacco products,” underscored Dr. Pacifico Calderon, a Bayanihan awardee at the Australia Alumni Excellence Awards 2022 for his leadership and contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Commending the Philippines for the groundbreaking Vape law, Zamora praised the country’s initiative to prioritize the well-being of people and ensure accessibility to harm reduction products. He expressed, “In that way, we can change things because there’s a billion lives at stake at this present time.”
Sharing the same sentiment with him was Suely Castro, an advocate from Knowledge Action Change, who said, “It’s really refreshing to know that the Philippines is going in the right direction.”
The champion of harm reduction made the remark because whenever she toured around the world to spread awareness on their cause, she only had use cases in the above-cited nations to share. But in Latin American and African countries that are mostly low- and middle-income, she observed that they like to see and match themselves with those that have the same level of political and economic development as theirs.
“It’s much closer or easier for them to compare themselves with countries like the Philippines [because] if the Philippines can do [it], they can also do right,” she pointed out. “It shows them that it’s just not a matter of having money. If there’s a will, there’s a way for the world.”
Dr. Rohan Andrade De Sequeira, a renowned consultant and cardio-metabolic physician, concurred with him, categorizing the island nation among affluent countries with abundant resources to promote safer nicotine products for their population.
“The United Kingdom, the United States of America, of course, the Philippines and so many other countries are leading the way in understanding and recognizing that there are safer alternatives to tobacco smoking, which is killing people all over the world. Critics try to make some kind of a misconception that these are more harmful, when in the contrary, they are up to 85 percent safer than conventional cigarettes,” he cited.
Call for change
Recognizing that the majority of individuals using vaping products, nicotine pouches, or heated tobacco are former smokers, Culliip is actively working to convert more people to these alternatives.
“We advocate for the use of these products, which users have found to have improved their lives. We want to kind of preach that to other people who haven’t yet switched to safer nicotine products,” he said.
The former head of an educational charity in the UK, though, warned oppositionists who establish all sorts of roadblocks to harm reduction by aiming to “redefine smoke to include vapor from vaping products and heated tobacco and, at the same time, put more restrictions on safer nicotine usage.”
He recently raised this to government delegations from across the globe that were gathered in Panama City from November 20 to 25 to discuss tobacco and nicotine policy at the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
“We call on all the delegates to consider the impact of what they are deciding. Basically, what they want to propose to the closed-door meeting is to eradicate all safer nicotine products,” Cullip stressed.