DOH urged to classify e-cigarettes as ‘less harmful’ option for smokers

The House Joint Committee on Health and Trade and Industry has adopted House Resolution (HR) 973 urging the Department of Health (DOH) to adopt harm-reduction measures, particularly the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vapes), as an alternative for smokers as part of the country’s National Tobacco Control Strategy.

In his sponsorship speech during the joint committee hearing held recently, HR 973 author Party-list Rep. Anthony M. Bravo of Coop-Nattco said the Philippines is a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which defines tobacco control as a range of supply, demand and harm-reduction strategies that aim to improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke.

“This FCTC provision is a recognition that harm-reduction measures can be considered for tobacco control,” Bravo said.

According to Bravo, harm reduction is a strategy directed toward individuals or groups that aims to reduce harms associated with certain behaviors. In recent years, harm reduction has been successfully applied to sexual-health education in an attempt to reduce both teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Programs using a harm-reduction philosophy have also successfully lowered risky alcohol use among adolescents.

Bravo cited Dr. Konstantinos E. Farsalinos, a leading expert on tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes, who said that appropriate regulation of e-cigarettes can help prevent serious sickness in and the premature death of millions of cigarette smokers in the Philippines. During his visit to Manila in April 2017, when he spoke on tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes in a series of media events, Farsalinos urged the Philippine government to create a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes that is reasonable, proportionate and realistic. He stressed that the regulatory framework for e-cigarettes “must be different from regulation of tobacco cigarettes; otherwise, people may be deceived into thinking that e-cigarettes are the same as tobacco cigarettes”.

Farsalinos noted that an appropriate e-cigarette regulatory framework is important to ensure product quality; promote harm-reduction products only to intended populations (i.e. smokers and former smokers); maintain a competitive advantage for harm-reduction products compared to smoking (price, availability, accessibility; and promote research to monitor population use and develop better (and even safer) products.

Farsalinos also noted that nicotine is the reason quitting smoking is very difficult. However, he explained that while smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, among many others, these diseases are not caused by nicotine. “People smoke for nicotine, but die from the tar. Tar refers to the combustion products of cigarettes produced by the burning of organic matter, dried tobacco leaf, something which is not present in e-cigarettes.”

A research fellow at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center and University of Patras in Greece, Farsalinos has been conducting research on e-cigarettes as principal investigator since 2011. As of 2016, he has published more than 40 studies and articles in international peer-reviewed scientific journals about smoking, tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes.