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Leading Filipino doctors throw support behind Vape Bill

February 1, 2022 People's Journal 507 views

Several leading Filipino doctors have thrown their support for the Vape Bill which was recently ratified by Congress, saying the regulation of less harmful alternatives will be a big win for public health in the country.

“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. 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.

Dr. Fernandez, an oral and maxillofacial surgery expert, is an anti-smoking advocate for many decades who has seen what smoking does for patients who develop oral cancer. He debunked the misinformation spread by other medical professionals who are against the landmark vape bill and said their personal beliefs do not represent the consensus of all doctors in the country.

He said those who push for a vape ban may unwittingly be supporting smoking. Dr. Fernandez said a number of medical practitioners in the country, in fact, now support robust scientific findings of public health authorities in the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union that vapes are much better alternative 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.

Many doctors also recognized the global scientific consensus including those from the the UK’s Public Health England which found vapor products to be less harmful than cigarettes.

Cigarettes are the “real enemy”, according to Dr. Christian Luna, medical director of the Tulay Lingap Ni Padre Pio Surgicenter. He said vapor products are less harmful alternatives that can help end the use of cigarettes in the country.

“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,” he said Luna.

Dr. Romeo Luna Jr., a top eye doctor and president of the San Juan City Medical Center Staff Association, said current smoking cessation strategies failed to prevent smokers from quitting. Dr. Luna said he lost relatives and friends because he could not make them 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.

Vaping helped thousands of former smokers quit, and one of them is Dr. Telesforo Gana, past president of the Philippine Urological Association and past chairman of the Philippine Board of Urology.

“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 noted the strong provisions in the Vape Bill that are designed to 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. Arleen Reyes, past president of the Philippine Dental Association.

The bicameral conference committee report on Senate Bill No 2239 and House Bill No. 9007 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. There is also mandatory product registration to ensure that only registered products that are compliant with national standards are sold in the market.

Dr. Reyes said banning vapor products, as some medical professionals wanted, 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 said that, “vapor products have been scientifically proven to be less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. With the passage of the Vape Bill, I am hopeful that it is only a matter of time that we will see a significant reduction on our country’s smoking rates and smoking-related deaths and sickness.”

“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.

The Vape Bill is viewed as a historic legislation, being the first comprehensive law to regulate vape products that will give access to the 16 million Filipino smokers to alternatives to smoking while at the same time providing very strict safeguards to ensure that minors and non-smokers do not have access to these products.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that the Philippines has around 16 million Filipino smokers with an annual quit rate of just 4 percent. About 100,000 Filipinos die every year from smoking-related diseases.

“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,” Dr. Fernandez said.

Most smokers support the regulation of the Vape Bill. A survey conducted by ACORN Marketing & Research Consultants, the largest independent Asian research network, found that 94 percent of Filipinos agree that the government should enact policies to encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful tobacco alternatives.