PH asked to follow UK approach in reducing smoking rate
MANILA, Philippines — The vape bill will give the Philippines an opportunity to replicate the liberal approach of the United Kingdom in addressing the smoking epidemic by providing smokers with less harmful alternatives, according to the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines (BCCP).
In a letter, the BCCP urged President Rodrigo Duterte to sign the vape bill into law, following its approval by the two chambers of Congress.
“The liberal approach to vaping of the UK government has led to a significant reduction in smoking rates,” Chris Nelson, BCCP executive director and trustee, said in the letter.
Citing data gathered between 2012 and 2016, the BCCP said the smoking rate in the UK declined from 20.4% to 16.1%.
The drop can be attributed to the extensive evidence supporting vaping by Public Health England, the country’s leading public health authority, the embrace of harm reduction by public health officials with no taxation, and the limited prohibition on public use of electronic cigarettes.
The UK’s smoking rate has dropped to 25% since 2012. From 2015 to 2019, the percentage of daily smokers went down from 17.9% to 15.5% as e-cigarette usage increased from 4.5% to 5.50%.
“As a result, the UK now has a lower smoking rate than any European country apart from Sweden,” the BCCP said.
Sweden managed to reduce its smoking rate through smoke-free products called snus, which is also a part of tobacco harm reduction — that is, the use of less harmful alternatives.
According to the BCCP, the UK approach incorporates substantiated principles including the following:
- prohibition of e-cigarette sale to and use by people under the age of 18
- recognition of e-cigarettes as 95% less harmful than smoking, with no identified health risks to bystanders from exposure to second-hand e-cigarette vapor
Such an approach also recognizes the following points:
- Heated tobacco is likely to be significantly less harmful than smoking and is likely to pose far less risk than smoking to bystanders.
- Smokers should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes to help them quit; policies should be based on the evidence regarding the risks of e-cigarette use to bystanders.
- Adult smokers should have accurate information and understand the relative risks of e-cigarettes compared to smoking.
- A risk-proportionate approach should be taken in regulating smoke-free products.
Nelson said that approving the vape bill would allow the Philippines to “head in the same direction as the UK which has successfully accelerated the decline in national smoking prevalence.”
There remain about 16 million smokers in the Philippines, with an unacceptable quit rate of just 4%.
The bill awaiting the president’s signatures consolidates House Bill No. 9007 and Senate Bill No. 2239.
The bill aims to regulate the importation, assembly, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use, advertisement, promotion, and sponsorship of vape products or e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bicameral conference committee report on SB 2239 and HB 9007 on Jan. 26, 2022. Both chambers overwhelmingly approved the bicameral committee report on the disagreeing provisions of the two versions.
According to the BCCP, the bill provides a balanced and differentiated regulatory framework for vapor products and HTPs by mandating measures to protect minors and non-users of tobacco products from nicotine addiction and use initiation, At the same time, it gives adults reasonable access to vapor products and HTPs as a better alternative to smoking cigarettes, the most dangerous form of tobacco product.
The BCCP also views the bill as an important legacy that the Duterte administration can leave for the current and future Filipino generations.
The bill also mandates product safety standards to be issued by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). It also requires the approval of the Food and Drug Administration for products with medicinal, therapeutic, and reduced risk claims.
Rep. Sharon Garin, a member of the bicameral conference committee that tackled the bill, said the proposed measure also strengthens the provisions of existing laws such as Republic Act No. 11467 and Executive Order No. 106.
A 2021 survey by ACORN Marketing and Research, the largest independent Asian Research network, says that 945 of Filipino smokers believe that the government should enact laws that will reduce the harm caused by smoking.
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