An end to the smoking epidemic

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

Countless anti-smoking advocates and public health researchers are now celebrating the bicameral approval of Senate Bill 2239 (the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Regulation Act) into law, and I count myself among them. This to me represents landmark legislation, as it is the first comprehensive bill on vaping that may finally put an end to the smoking epidemic, as well as illegal vaping products. Congratulations to all the legislators that reviewed the volumes of supporting documents and clinical studies carefully, and did not base their decision on impulse or anecdotal stories.

In truth, this almost seemed like a very predictable ending, since the bill (which seeks to regulate the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use and communication of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products) gained strong approval from both legislative houses. There was, however, some resistance to this law when it was first proposed, as a few groups objected to what they perceived to be the possibility that vape would “put our youth at risk.”

I have no doubt that the intentions behind these objections are certainly well meaning. The reality, however, is that the Vape Regulation Law works within the bounds of long established, systemic (and socio-economic) structures to provide the most sensible way to put a dent into the smoking habit. Time and again, we have witnessed how the only rational method to curb an unwanted activity is by offering an adequate substitute.

Indeed, the Vape Bill aims to provide a considerably less toxic alternative to Filipino smokers, who are estimated to number around 16 million. By banning vape products, these smokers will most likely continue their habit, thus translating to a massive lost opportunity for public health. And speaking of lost opportunities, history has taught us that a total ban on a consumer good will only lead to illegal, uninspected products being sold in the market (which, in this case, geometrically multiplies the risk) and a huge loss of  excise tax revenues to the government. That’s a double blackeye for all parties involved, apart from the lost investment opportunities that a comprehensive regulatory framework will definitely bring.

Needless to say, there are some medical practitioners who maintain that vape products are harmful due to their toxic substances and effects, and thus the Vape Regulation Law puts the Filipino youth at risk. While I would never be foolish enough to question the expertise of these doctors, there is also a ton of medical research that conclusively determines that vape is far less harmful than traditional cigarettes. In this context, I would definitely say that an overwhelming majority of vapers use the product precisely as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, and not for simple recreation or flavor.

Building on this point, as far as “putting the Filipino youth at risk,” the irony is that the provisions of the Vape Regulation Law are far stricter than those in our current tobacco law. As expected, it completely prohibits the sale to and use by minors of vape products and penalizes violators with a fine and/or imprisonment. Taking it to the next level, the law bans the sale, advertising and promotion of vape products within 100 meters of school perimeters and playgrounds, and even prohibits the display of vape products immediately next to products of particular interest to minors. Moreover, applying lessons learned in the past, the Vape Regulation Law also forbids the use of flavor descriptors that unduly appeal to minors in vape products, so you won’t see any “bubblegum ice cream,” “orange popsicle” or “rainbow candy” flavors being sold in the market.

For all these reasons, I believe that this new Vape Law is an effective and workable legislation that will benefit public health. In my humble opinion, any moves to oppose it may burn us in the end, and make whatever benefits it promises go up in smoke.

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