Opposition to Vape Bill may exacerbate smoking, top Filipino doctors say
Leading Filipino doctors who are involved in treating smokers warned that the opposition to the Vape Bill may contribute to the widespread smoking epidemic, which is a leading cause of deaths in the country.
“The Vape Bill is clearly a big win for public health. Those who would like to ban vaping may indirectly be supporting smoking. We don’t want that,” said Dr. Fernando Fernandez, Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Dental Federation and the past president of the Philippine Dental Association.
“The logical conclusion is that vapor products will save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers or at the very least reduce their health risks. Therefore, regulation and not prohibition is key. This is what the vape bill seeks to do,” said Dr. Fernandez, an oral and maxillofacial surgery expert and an anti-smoking advocate who has seen what smoking does for patients who develop oral cancer.
The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bicameral conference committee report on Senate Bill No 2239 and House Bill No. 9007 which regulates vaporized nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products in the country.
The measure also bans the sale of vapor products to minors and imposes fine and imprisonment for violators. It also mandates the printing of health warnings on the packaging of products to ensure that consumers are aware of the accompanying risks on the use of said products. Product registration is also mandatory to ensure that only registered products that are compliant with national standards are sold in the market.
Many prominent Filipino doctors expressed their support for the Vape Bill and denied the misinformation sown by other medical professionals who are against the landmark measure.
Dr. Fernandez said the regulation of vaporized nicotine products is supported by scientific findings of public health authorities in the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union that vapes are much less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
“It is unfortunate that some in the medical profession are making this a political issue. Let’s all be professional and focus on the scientific discourse. The science has become extremely strong in recent years that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes,” said Dr. Fernandez.
Dr. Arleen Reyes, past president of the Philippine Dental Association, supported Dr. Fernandez’s view that banning vapor products would only worsen the smoking problem.
“I don’t agree that we should ban vapor products. If we do that, we will lose this public health opportunity to end the smoking epidemic. Let’s not forget, smoking kills close to 100,000 Filipino smokers every year. That is around 300 Filipinos per day. A ban on vapor products only perpetuates the use of cigarettes that endangers the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” said Dr. Reyes.
Dr. Reyes noted that vapor products were scientifically proven to be less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
“If we do not pass the Vape Bill, there will be another 100,000 Filipinos who will die of smoking-related diseases for the year 2022. It is for this reason I support the passage of the Vape Bill,” she said.
Global health bodies such as the UK’s Public Health England found vapor products to be less harmful than cigarettes.
Dr. Christian Luna, medical director of the Tulay Lingap Ni Padre Pio Surgicenter, said that instead of turning their attention against vaping, anti-vaping groups should focus on cigarettes as the “real enemy”.
“All of us in the medical community are united in our fight against smoking and seeing the end of the smoking epidemic for good. Thus, the government should regulate, and not ban, alternatives to cigarettes that are proven to be less harmful whether it is a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, vapor products or heated tobacco products. I think this is what the Vape Bill aims to do and hence, I express support to this measure,” said Dr. Luna.
Dr. Romeo Luna Jr., a prominent eye doctor and president of the San Juan City Medical Center Staff Association, said vaporized products could hold the key to ending the smoking epidemic. Dr. Luna lost relatives and friends who failed to stop smoking.
“The grim reality today is that there are still 16 million Filipino smokers and many of them will not stop smoking. As a medical practitioner, it is my duty to give them an alternative to make them stop smoking. That’s why I support the passage of the Vape Bill because it is our best hope to stop the smoking epidemic,’’ he said.
Dr. Telesforo Gana, past president of the Philippine Urological Association and past chairman of the Philippine Board of Urology, agreed, saying he himself quit smoking after discovering vapor products.
“It took me a very long time to stop smoking. Without vapor products, I would not have been able to fully stop. The reality is many smokers will try to stop smoking, but will never be successful. That is what the WHO [World Health Organization] data says,” Dr. Gana said.
“Smoker’s lives matter too. We should not look at them as statistics. We need to have pragmatic solution to end the smoking epidemic. I hope the Vape Bill can be that solution so we can save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” he said.
Doctors also expressed support to the provisions in the Vape Bill that protect minors. “There is no debate that vapor products should not be sold to minors or non-smokers and that this should be properly regulated. Hence, I fully support the inclusion of all necessary safeguards in the Vape Bill to protect minors and non-smokers,” said Dr. Reyes.
Once approved, the Vape Bill will be the first comprehensive law to regulate vape products and give access to the 16 million Filipino smokers to alternatives to smoking while providing strict safeguards to ensure that minors and non-smokers do not have access to these products.
The Philippines has around 16 million Filipino smokers with an annual quit rate of just 4 percent, according to data from the World Health Organization. About 100,000 Filipinos also die every year from smoking-related diseases.
Dr. Fernandez said more Filipino smokers will die from this epidemic unless the Vape Bill is signed into law soon. “I hate cigarettes and smoking period. However, despite all our efforts in the medical community, the cases of oral cancer are still at an alarming rate. Many Filipino smokers will continue to get this disease if we don’t act now,” he said.
Most Filipinos also support the regulation of vaporized nicotine products, according to a survey conducted by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network. The survey said 94 percent of Filipinos agree that the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives.
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