Public health issue
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Just recently, the Department of Health issued an administrative order prohibiting smoking of electronic cigarettes and vapes in public places.

According to Administrative Order 2019-0007 signed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque last June 14, use of vapes and e-cigarettes will now be banned in public places where smoking is prohibited. The order covers electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

This AO completely ignores the growing scientific and experts evidence in support of e-cigarettes and vapes which are now considered as safer nicotine products or SNPs.

There is no debate that smoking tobacco cigarettes is the most dangerous way of consuming nicotine. People smoke for the nicotine, but get sick or die from the tar and gases which are produced when cigarettes are lighted up. This is because combustion releases highly dangerous toxins which are bad not only for the smoker, but also for the immediate family and bystanders.

While it is ideal for some people to just give up smoking, for some it is not that easy. As pointed out in the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) 2018 report, “quit or die” is no longer the only option for those who cannot give up and the SNPs offer another way.

“There is substantial international, independent evidence that these products (SNPs) are demonstrably safer than cigarettes. These potential life-saving products could lead to a global revolution in public health,” it said.

Studies have shown that people who have switched to exclusively using SNPs gain exactly the same advantage as that of completely quitting smoking.  According to Dr. Riccardo Polosa who does clinical research in the field of smoking-related diseases, this is because tobacco smoke has tar and 7,000 other chemicals, while e-cigarettes has around 150.

E-cigarettes, according to the GSTHR report, are estimated to be 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes. SNPs enable people to continue getting nicotine, but avoid the health risks of smoking. Why are they safer than combustible tobacco products? Again, because these products do not burn, they do not produce dangerous tar and gases.

Some people also have this misconception that since e-cigs and vapes still produce smoke, they are dangerous to bystanders. E-cigarettes heat the nicotine to create water vapor that one inhales and exhales. Smoke and vapor are two different things, something which our DOH secretary should think about.

During the recent Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Clarisse Virgino from the Philippines, a member of the Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates group, called for fair regulation and taxation on e-cigarettes and other SNPs which can help smokers quit. She stressed that there should be accessibility, affordability, and availability for SNPs.

The bottomline is that SNPs such as e-cigarettes and vapes should not be treated and regulated the same way as traditional combustible cigarettes. Just like AIDS, some experts suggest that the use of harm reduction products such as SNPs should be treated as a public health issue rather than as a sin. Governments do not ban people from having sex to avoid AIDS, but instead encourage them to practice safe sex by using condoms.

In the same way, our government should encourage cigarette smokers to stop smoking, but if they can’t, switch to safer alternatives like e-cigarettes and vape.

Our government should encourage the use of these new-age nicotine delivery systems with tax rates proportional to harm instead of using these products as a means to generate revenues for the public coffers. Making it difficult for people to switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs and vapes by banning their use or making the latter expensive denies smokers a better quality of life.

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