Tobacco harm-reduction advocates welcomed the passage of the amended Sin Tax Law which imposed excise taxes on e-cigarettes or vapes effective January 1, 2020.
“This is momentous because in effect, the government now recognizes e-cigarettes as legal commodities in the Philippines,” he said.
CAPHRA executive director Nancy Loucas said cigarette smoking causes a million deaths per year in the Asia Pacific region, with smoke from combustion as the main culprit.
“We all know, from years of messaging and public service announcements, as well as from personal experience, that the use of combustible tobacco has killed millions and millions of people over the last 50 years. We also know, from science, that it is the smoke that kills the users of combustible tobacco, not the nicotine. We know that nicotine is no more harmful to adult humans than caffeine, and science has recently shown that nicotine can actually benefit adults with cognitive disabilities,” Loucas said.
“However, in spite of the science around nicotine and the various alternate consumption methods therein, there are those in positions of influence who would have the world believe that the use of alternative forms of nicotine is just as deadly and harmful as lighting up a cigarette,” she said, referring to global bodies such as WHO.
Tobacco harm-reduction advocates gathered in Makati City on February 28 to launch the Asia- wide education and information campaign#SmokeFree4Life and urged the World Health Organization and the Department of Health to respect the rights of smokers who want to switch to safer smoke-free alternatives during the 9th Session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP9) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to be held in November.
The regional movement, spearheaded by the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates and supported by thousands of vapers and former smokers from different countries, aims to curb the smoking epidemic in the Asia-Pacific and inform smokers about the existence of safer alternatives such as electronic nicotine delivery systems or electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products and snus.
“We, vapers and former smokers, and advocates of tobacco harm reduction, have an opportunity to add to the global discussions on ENDS, heat-not-burn tobacco products and snus as much safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes. We stand up for our freedom of choice. We stand up for our rights as consumers,” said Clarisse Virgino, the Philippine representative to CAPHRA.
“We stand up for the well-being of more than a billion cigarette smokers globally who are now presented with better and innovative nicotine products. We are here united and collectively call on the WHO and other health authorities to start caring for them by allowing them access to safer alternatives that they want and deserve,” Virgino said in her speech during the launch of #SmokeFree4Life in Poblacion, Makati City.
The CAPHRA lady executive criticized WHO FCTC’s lack of engagement with the major stakeholders, the public, as they are mandated to do.
She said WHO also ignored a letter sent to them in October 2018 by 72 tobacco harm scientific experts who stated that, “it is time for tobacco control to embrace tobacco harm reduction”.as said, adding that the FCTC has a mandate to pursue “harm reduction” as a core tobacco control policy, it has failed to acknowledge or implement this policy over the last 18 years.
It has effectively deprived smokers of an effective way out of smoking, she stressed.
Loucas said this should not be the case as WHO FCTC is a non-governmental organization that is not eligible for public funding directly from any sovereign nation and therefore relies on donations.
“We want you to understand that the WHO cannot compel or force a signatory to comply with their advice or guidelines, as they have no authority over sovereign nations’ legal systems,” she said.
Loucas then advised local health authorities such as the DOH to bring up to FCTC-CoP9 discussion the consumers' rights to choose less harmful products as a way to protect themselves from cigarette smoke.
Virgino said it is the reason they are launching the information campaign.
“We are standing for our rights to be heard and included in the WHO discussion. We also want WHO to look at the science again and not ignore them, instead of resorting to moralistic approach, regarding ENDS and other alternative nicotine products which we consider to be the most revolutionary products in harm reduction. If we allow digital technologies to disrupt industries, why cannot we allow electronic innovation to improve public health?” she said.
“We want to inform the public as well as our government officials, including the DOH Secretary that we want to be heard. We say ‘No’ to smoking. We say ‘No’ to ban on vaping. We say ‘Yes’ to public health. We say ‘Yes’ to safer smoke-free nicotine products. We also say ‘Yes’ to regulation with representation,” she said.
Virgino also addressed the questions on the safety of vaping or the use of e-cigarettes, because of the e-cig or vaping-associated lung injury cases in the US.
Virgino said EVALI cases were eventually linked to the use of vitamin E acetate and tetrahydrocannabinol or THC oil—the same substance in marijuana.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as earlier reported by the U.S. FDA said vitamin E acetate, used as a thickening agent for THC -- the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, was “a very strong culprit of concern” in EVALI cases.