THE enactment of the “anti-smoking” Vape Law in the Philippines supports the real science of harm reduction which provides smokers access to regulated less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products HTPs, according to a scientific research and advocacy group.
The Harm Reduction Alliance of the Philippines said it supports the implementation of Republic Act No. 11900 or the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, in line with its advocacy for tobacco harm reduction (THR)—a public health strategy that involves the use of less harmful alternatives to combusted cigarettes to mitigate adult smokers’ exposure to tobacco smoke, which is the one that contains toxic substances.
“This development affirms the sound and real science behind tobacco harm reduction, which countries like the U.K., Japan and New Zealand have accepted and implemented,” said Prof. Ron Christian G. Sison, lead convenor of HARAP.
HARAP said RA 11900 is the first comprehensive law that adopts as a matter of state policy the reduction of harm caused by smoking. It also provides very stringent rules to ensure that minors cannot access or be attracted to buying these products. It also bans the sale of high nicotine vape products or those with nicotine content above 65 mg/ml.
Prof. Sison said THR encourages adults unable or does not want to quit smoking to switch to less harmful smoke-free alternatives. Compared to combusted cigarettes, vaporized nicotine products do not produce smoke, they generate vapor by heating the e-liquid or tobacco.
Public Heath England, the highest health authority in the United Kingdom, found vapes to be at least 95-percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. HARAP said its own studies also found that smoke-free alternatives produce less heavy metals.
HARAP, which has medical professionals and researchers as members, is among the first groups in the Philippines to conduct a scientific study on vaporized nicotine products and their impact on health of consumers.
“When we conducted the first local clinical study on vapor products, HARAP already found that they produce less heavy metals liwke lead and cadmium than cigarettes. HARAP has also participated in various international fora, where the consensus is that these smoke-free alternatives are better than combusted cigarettes,” said Dr. Ronald P. Cabral, co-convenor of HARAP.
“HARAP has always focused on evidence development and knowledge sharing when studying the benefits of alternatives,” said Dr. Cabral.
The Department of Health, in its online portal, identified the Philippines as one of 15 countries worldwide with a heavy burden of tobacco-related ill health. About 86,000 Filipinos reportedly die annually from more than 40 smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke, it said.
Studies also showed that 16.6 million adults or 23.8 percent of the Philippine population were smoking tobacco as of 2015.
The Philippines unfortunately has a significantly low annual quit rate of 4 percent, meaning that not even 1 out of 10 smokers will quit in a year, according to HARAP.
HARAP is among the scientific research groups that presented its findings to the 18th Congress, which after 10 hearings and technical working group meetings, overwhelmingly approved the Vape Bill in January 2022. Foreign experts were also invited to the hearings at the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“HARAP has appeared several times before the House of Representatives and the Senate to share its inputs in support of then Senate Bill 2239. The passage of the Vape Law is a vindication for harm reduction advocates in the country. We will continue championing it to ensure that all struggling Filipino adult smokers have access to regulated alternatives,” said Prof. Sison.
The House of Representatives approved House Bill (HB) 9007, its version of the measure, with 195 affirmative votes, 34 negative and 4 abstentions on third and final reading on May 25, 2021, while the Senate passed SB 2239 with 19 affirmative votes, 2 negative and 2 abstentions on Dec. 14, 2021.
The bicameral conference committee of the Senate and the House ratified the consolidated version of the bills early this year. It became a law as RA 11900 on July 25, 2022 to regulate the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use and communication of vaping products such as e-cigarettes and HTPs.
It is expected to provide more than 16 million Filipino smokers with less harmful alternatives to combusted cigarettes.
A survey conducted by ACORN Marketing and Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network, showed that 94 percent of Filipinos believe the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives.
HARAP was founded in 2018 to advance the understanding of harm reduction policies in promoting public health, which includes road safety, sustainable development, HIV/AIDS support and tobacco harm reduction.