Expert tells how vape bill can help save lives of Filipino smokers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — With the official campaign period for the 2022 elections just around the corner, Congress is expected to wrap up work on a few more key bills that will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for his signature before his term ends this year.

Among the key measures is the vaporized nicotine product (VNP) bill, which is touted to significantly reduce the smoking rate and save lives of Filipino smokers. The measure aims to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

Both chambers of Congress have already approved their versions of the vape bill. The bicameral conference committee is expected to come up with a final version this week to be sent to the President for his signature.

Once signed into law, the vape bill is seen to help 17 million Filipino smokers kick the habit, make less harmful alternatives to cigarettes more available, ensure the quality of VNP products in the country through proper regulation, raise additional revenues for the government, and prevent minors' access to vape products, according to advocacy groups supporting it.

However, the Department of Health and other groups have expressed strong objection to the vape bill, with the DOH describing the measure as a "blatant disregard to public health."

READ: DOH, doctors oppose Senate passage of vape regulation bill

One of the bill’s supporters, cardiologist Rafael Castillo, contradicted this by saying the vape bill is actually an “anti-smoking law.”

Dr. Castillo—who is also among the medical professionals who conducted the first local scientific study that concluded HTPs contain less harmful chemicals than cigarettes—pointed out that “the real enemy is cigarettes.”

“Cigarette is the product that is causing all these deaths, and any way we can make smokers stop using cigarettes will put smokers in a better place…The VNP bill will be the country’s first comprehensive law to regulate vapor products. Of course, the implementing rules and regulations or IRR will be crucial, but I believe the VNP bill already establishes the rules of the game,” he told CNN Philippines.

Dr. Castillo is currently a trustee/council member of the UK-based International Society of Hypertension (ISH), and the chairman of ISH International Forum and Regional Advisory Groups.

He said he has been an anti-smoking advocate for years, but noted the best way to save smokers is by offering them less harmful alternatives.

“I support alternative tobacco products like heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes or so-called vape products, which have been found by many scientific studies to be less harmful than cigarettes,” he said.

He added that the bill “offers a pragmatic middle ground and an aggressive approach to the smoking problem that shows some promise in mitigating the negative health outcomes of smoking.”

But the DOH pointed out that the bill also lowered the age of those allowed to buy and use e-cigarettes and vapes from 21 to 18, which puts young Filipinos at risk since it will make vapor products easily accessible and more enticing to the youth.

Castillo said the approved Senate version already provides many safeguards to ensure that minors will not use such products, like ban on sale to minors, a ban on use of flavor descriptors that appeal to this age group, and a ban on placing the product beside items that appeal to the youth.

“VNP bill is actually our best chance at the moment to end the smoking epidemic for good. We've tried all sorts of interventions and we have to admit that they're not working as well as we had wanted them to,” he added.