Latest European studies could guide PH in ongoing e-cigarette regulations proposals

Recent PSA and DOH statistics on cigarette smoking have revealed that only 4% of Filipino smokers have quit the dangerous habit despite the tighter rules and regulations implemented almost four years ago.

This is an important reference point as the country’s regulatory bodies develop the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Acts 11346 and 11467, which currently include plenty of prohibitions on products like cigarettes, E-cigarettes, and alcohol.

While most of these extensive restrictions have the intention of improving public health, limiting access to e-cigarettes can be counterproductive, as vaping has been proven to reduce cigarette use.

The preferred method for smokers

According to a recent report published by Public Health England, vaping has been positively associated with quitting smoking successfully and has been a top choice of smokers looking to quit, as compared to other Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) methods.

The latest report highlighted the top three reasons for e-cigarette use was toquit smoking altogether, halt cigarette use, or reduce smoking tobacco-based products.

The report also stated that in 2017, 50,000 smokers in England were able to stop smoking with the help of vaping products.

Another public opinion survey commissioned by the European Union yielded similar results, with more than half of surveyed e-cigarette users (57%) saying that they started vaping to stop or reduce tobacco consumption.

On vape flavors

This same ‘Eurobarometer’ study also pointed to the wide variety of scents and flavors as one of the most important reasons as to why smokers switched to vaping, with fruity flavors emerging as the most popular choice at 48%, followed by tobacco at 36%, mint-menthol flavors at 30%, and other sweet flavors such as chocolate and vanilla at 20%.

The results were somewhat similar in Public Health England’s report, wherein 31.6% of respondents preferred fruity vape flavors, while 25.2% and 20% favored tobacco and mint-menthol aromas respectively.

At present, the proposed IRRs in the Philippines look to ban flavored e-cigarette juices, potentially to the detriment of many smokers who have turned to vaping in order to quit smoking.

On underage smoking

Underage consumption is a key concern of regulatory bodies in the Philippines. In the case of e-cigarettes however, the Eurobarometer and Public Health England studies have proven that contrary to widespread misconceptions, its widespread availability is not correlated with an increased underage use, revealing that most young people who had never smoked had also never vaped. Regulations on e-cigarettes should be distinct for youth prevention use, while enabling existing smokers to access e-cigarettes.

Of those who did use e-cigarettes under the legal age, the majority of these 11 to 18 year olds also reported that they only tried e-cigarettes after smoking its combustible counterpart.

These latest studies, alongside the recent statistics from the PSA and DOH, could also serve as a concrete basis for drafting the proposed IRRs which are currently under consultation with different industry players.

Restricting access and increasing the cost of ownership for e-cigarettes could just lead to continued combustible smoking, which, again, has been proven to remain consistent despite numerous efforts to curb its use.

The government may find insights in these societal observations globally to be a crucial factor in formulating policies that serve not only to support existing smokers quit smoking, but at the same time implement policies to make it unattractive for young people to purchase these e-cigarettes.

Policymakers frequently mistake implementing e-cigarette regulations as allowing for the free access of these products to the public. However, that is not the case, as good e-cigarette regulations for the industry serve to not only discourage youth usage, but at the same time, nudge smokers to quit smoking altogether using the best possible means, which e-cigarettes have been proven to be.