Vaping is harmful and is not the best option, and would never be, for people who are trying to quit smoking.

This was stressed by HealthJustice Philippines, a non-government organization as they expressed alarm that the pending Senate Bill No. 2239 titled “An Act Regulating the Importation, Manufacture, Sale, Packaging, Distribution, Use, And Communication of Vapor Products and Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs) ,” or commonly known as the Vape Bill, would encourage the people, especially the youth to try vaping.

HealthJustice is strongly against this bill for being anti-children and anti-health for it allows 18 years old to purchase and use the vaporized nicotine products (VNP), such as vapes and HTPs, allows online sales and does not ban fruit and candy flavors attractive to children.

Vapes and e-cigarettes not safe

Former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez -Tan, a trustee of HealthJustice Philippines, maintained that vapes and e-cigarettes are not safe. This was also the stand of other health professionals.

Dr. Galvez Tan slammed the proposed bill in the Senate for endorsing vaping as an alternative for those who want to quit smoking.

“As far as the national and international scientific and medical community is concerned, vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes are harmful and not safe because these still emit toxic chemicals,” Dr. Galvez -Tan pointed out.

The former DOH official also refuted what the tobacco industry is saying that vaping is a “safe” alternative.

“According to studies here and abroad, there is no difference between smoking and vaping because they both maintain the addiction,” Dr. Galvez -Tan stressed.

He emphasized that what they don’t want to happen is for teenagers aged 13 to 15, to be lured of vapes in different colors and flavors. “Per our tobacco control experience, children are attracted to smoking due to flavors. That also applies to vaping,” Dr. Galvez-Tan said.

“If you want to quit smoking, then start with yourself or ask assistance from the DOH quitline number 1558,” he said as he appealed to the youth not to try VPN and HTPs.

HealthJustice also reiterated that quitting smoking through approved cessation services like nicotine patch therapy, is the best way to quit, given that it is already a proven safe way to stop the deadly addiction.

The goal of cessation, HealthJustice emphasized, is to stop smoking and end nicotine dependence and “not to shift” smokers to new nicotine addiction which have been proven to cause EVALI or e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury.

Senate Interpellation

Senator Risa Hontiveros, during the interpellation period on the bill on August 3, 2021, raised three issues: (1)The appropriate age for a person to be allowed to use the vaping products and heated products; (2)the removal of the restrictions on flavored vaping products; (3)and the role of the Food and Drugs Administration.

“The sale of flavored novel products such as cherry, bubble gum and chocolate marshmallows would appeal to the minors,” Hontiveros said noting that under the current law or Republic Act No. 11467, only vaping products with plain menthol and plain tobacco flavors are allowed in the market.

She also cited a National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in the United States in 2020, showing that e-cigarette users using flavored products among middle and high school increased to 82.5 percent in 2020 from 68.6 percent in 2019.

The senator also cited that under the recently passed RA 11467 the allowed age set is 21 years old and not 18.

Meanwhile, Atty. Benedict G. Nisperos, legal consultant of HealthJustice, said that studies have shown that children are naturally enticed to fruity and candy tobacco flavors.

“About 3/4 of youth smokers say that they tried tobacco due to flavors. This is what we don’t want to happen in vapes,” he said.

Nicotine in vapes and e-cigarettes

In an article published in the Johns Hopkins website, wherein Dr. Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, has written that like their traditional counterparts, vapes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is harmful and addicting.

“It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack,” Dr. Blaha writes.

He adds: “Emerging data suggests links to chronic lung disease and asthma and associations between dual use of e-cigarettes and smoking with cardiovascular disease. You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of February 18, 2020, it has recorded a total of 2,807 hospitalized e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases, of which 68 deaths have been confirmed.

In the Philippines, the first confirmed case of EVALI involved a 16-year-old.

Not Approved Cessation Tools

Manufacturers tout vapes and e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools. However, they have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as such. Moreover, they have not undergone clinical trials to ensure their safety.

Furthermore, these gadgets do not actually help people quit. They just make smokers switch from one form (traditional) to another. Studies have also found that flavored vapes and e-cigarettes lure adolescents to smoke, or to become addicted to nicotine.

DOH and WHO refutes claim of “reduced harm”

The Department of Health (DOH), together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and medical societies, warned the public on the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

The DOH said that they do not support the vape and tobacco industry claim of reduced harm noting that these products “endanger” the health of both users and non-users, and are clearly not meant for children.

In response to the epidemic in the United States (US), WHO has introduced International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 10 code U07.0, an international tool for classifying and monitoring diseases, to be used immediately for reporting of acutely ill patients who have used electronic cigarettes in the last 90 days, with no other plausible causes for illness.

An increase in vaping-related illnesses in the US has been reported in recent months, mostly afflicting otherwise healthy young people and have coined a new term for this disease: e-cigarette and vaping associated lung unjury (EVALI).

With 1,299 cases and 26 deaths reported, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US FDA have been investigating the reports as EVALI.

“EVALI epidemic is a real and constant threat to the Philippine with youth uptake of vapes on the rise. We should have stricter regulations on vapes and HTPs,” Atty. Nisperos concluded.