Written by Clarisse Virgino
E-cigarettes have been conclusively proven to be around 95% safer than combustible cigarettes, and vaping has been helping millions of smokers quit all over the world. Vaping is a form of tobacco harm reduction (THR), a public health strategy that aims to provide safer alternatives to reduce harms caused by smoking and to provide nicotine to people who cannot or do not want to quit smoking by themselves or with currently-approved methods.
Department of Health (DOH) data show that almost 88,000 Filipinos die from smoking-related diseases every year. Healthcare expenditures and lost income due to smoking-related sickness and premature death cost the country Php 188 billion (US$ 4 billion) yearly. These figures only cover four of more than 40 smoking-related diseases namely lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke. There are currently 16 million Filipino adult smokers. Unfortunately, the Philippines has a very low 4% smoking cessation rate. If every adult smoker in the Philippines switched to vaping, it would be one of the country’s greatest public health advances.
The DOH estimates there are about 1 million Filipinos who use e-cigarettes. A 2016 survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Fact Asia among 600 adult Filipino smokers showed that two-thirds of all adults (66%) are aware of e-cigarettes, but usage is very low at 4% for regular and occasional users. However, 76% agree that “through tax and regulatory policies, the Government should encourage adult smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives to cigarettes and ensure they are not used by youth.” About 86% agreed that they should be able to access information about alternatives to regular cigarettes if new products are scientifically proven to be less harmful. While 63% agreed that, “It would be wrong for the government to prevent or delay the introduction of less harmful alternatives to regular cigarettes for adult smokers.”
I do not agree with the WHO claim that the vaping industry is manipulating youth. I absolutely agree that tobacco control advocates are using children as scapegoats to get around the “inconvenient truth” that vaping is actually helping smokers quit.
Concerns that vaping may appeal to youth or may serve as a gateway to smoking are inconsistent with the evidence. E-cigarettes have been gateways out of smoking for millions and have been accompanied by declining youth smoking rates. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that “curiosity” was the number one reason why young Americans say they tried vaping, with fruity and sweet flavors being available coming in a distant third-place on reasons to try vaping.
WHO data reveal that every day 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, the WHO predicts that 250 million children and young people alive today will die from tobacco-related diseases. Given this dire situation, I believe that the right to harm reduction should extend to all users who currently use combustible tobacco, including youth who currently smoke. Nicotine dependence in youth develops rapidly and over 50% of those youth who smoke daily are already nicotine dependent.
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