Public health experts affirm vaping can improve public health


International experts and advocates said evidence from several countries confirms that regulated access to less harmful alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs), leads to substantial improvement in a country’s overall public health condition.

Tobacco treatment clinician Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, harm reduction advocate Dr. Alex Wodak and public interest policy consultant Clive Bates, citing experiences of other countries, are one in saying that the availability of e-cigarettes or vapes and HTPS has led to significant decline in smoking prevalence.

“Vaping nicotine is now the most popular and most effective quitting aid in Australia and other western countries and has helped millions of smokers globally to quit. It is a far safer alternative to deadly cigarettes for addicted smokers who are otherwise unable to quit,” Dr. Mendelson said.

“Vaping has resulted in the accelerated decline in national smoking rates in other countries where it is legally and readily accessible for adult smokers. Other nicotine products such as heated tobacco and nicotine pouches are also safer alternatives to smoking and effective quitting aids. I strongly support legislation to make these products available to adult smokers. This legislation will lead to substantial improvements in public health,” said Dr. Mendelsohn, who is also a member of the Expert Advisory Committee of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Smoking Cessation Guidelines.

Bates, director of Counterfactual Consulting Ltd. and former director of Action on Smoking and Health (UK), said “That’s the fastest way to reduce death and disease from smoking and it is all done at the expense and initiative of users, without expensive public sector programs.” Dr. Wodak, emeritus consultant for Alcohol and Drug Service at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, said smoking remains a major public health issue globally, affecting about 1.1 billion. “Up to two out of every three long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related condition. About eight million people around the world die every year from smoking. Most of these deaths are from cancer, heart or lung disease,” he said.

“It is now 20 years since vaping was developed by a pharmacist in Beijing. Commercial forms of vaping started in 2006. Different kinds of studies confirm that vaping is much less dangerous than smoking. Several highly regarded scientific organizations estimate that vaping is at least 95-percent less risky than smoking. Vaping allows smokers to continue ingesting nicotine but without the tars and many other dangerous chemicals contained in cigarette smoke,” said Dr. Wodak, who is also the director of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA).

He said other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia are now seriously considering making it easy for smokers to switch from deadly cigarettes to much lower risk vaping. “The United Kingdom and New Zealand are examples of western countries which make it easy for smokers to switch from smoking to vaping,” he said.

He said harm reduction, or the use of less harmful alternatives, will help the Philippines reduce the smoking problem. “The idea of people continuing to use a psychoactive drug but avoiding most or all of the health, social or economic costs is called ‘harm reduction’. Indeed the Philippines used harm reduction extensively to minimize the spread of HIV among and from people who inject drugs,” he said.

Data from the World Health Organization show that more than 17 million Filipinos continue to smoke cigarettes, and more than 100,000 die of smoking-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease each year.

The Philippine Senate and House of Representatives earlier ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act. The bill aims to regulate the use, manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, and promotion of vaping and HTPs in the country. It now awaits the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte to become a law.

Dr. Mendelsohn said such legislation will prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from smoking in the country.

“Indeed. If we accelerate the declining smoking rate, this will over time reduce healthcare expenditure. Adding vaping to existing tobacco control policies will help accelerate the decline in smoking rates. I very much hope that the Philippines will make it easy for smokers to switch to vaping. This will also require risk proportionate regulation,” Dr. Wodak said.

Bates said the vape bill strikes a good balance between consumer protection and giving ordinary people access to less harmful alternatives to cigarettes so that they can become smoke-free.

Bates expressed hope that President Duterte will support the regulation of vaping and other less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. “The bill sets up an excellent regulatory framework, carefully balancing the needs of people who smoke to access much safer alternatives to cigarettes and the protection of those who do not smoke or use nicotine. This is a fine balancing act and in my view, the bill gets it right,” he said.

“I hope the President will place his signature on the bill and give the Philippines truly independent legislation that will be among the best in the world,” said Bates, who previously worked for the UK government and the United Nations.

Bates said excessive regulation on innovative new products will likely do more harm than good. “If you make vaping more difficult, less satisfying, harder to access, or more expensive, then expect more cigarette smoking, a black market, user workarounds and more ill-health, accidents and crime,” he said.

Bates also lauded the Filipino senators and congressmen for having “done a good job in drafting sound risk-proportionate legislation that has made its way through intense Congressional scrutiny and is now an example of world-class legislation.” At the same time, he said the government should resist the opposition to the new legislation from anti-vaping American billionaires like Michael Bloomberg. “He comes with a crude prohibition agenda and has been operating in the Philippines since 2011, building his influence by funding public health groups and the civil service,” he said, referring to charities financed by Bloomberg to promote vaping ban in many countries.

“The government and President should look hard at their (Bloomberg’s charities) advice and ask if it is compromised. Everyone should ask if their opposition to this legislation is really in the interest of Philippines citizens. Almost everything they propose for regulating vaping, for example, would protect the cigarette trade, stimulate black markets and add to the national burden of ill-health and crime,” he said.

Read full article here.

Manila Bulletin – 2022-03-14.

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