MANILA — A regional tobacco harm reduction organization has warned that misleading and downright false information on e-cigarettes is stopping smokers from switching to the better nicotine alternative.
“The perception of harm from vaping is not consistent with the scientific evidence. Local public health experts should take the lead in providing Filipino smokers who cannot or do not want to quit smoking by themselves or with currently-approved methods with accurate scientific information on e-cigarettes and other better nicotine alternatives,” said Ms. Clarisse Virgino, Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA).
Misinformation on vaping harms
Virgino cited the latest Public Health England (PHE) evidence update on vaping, which revealed that perceptions of harm from vaping among smokers are increasingly out of line with the evidence. “The proportion [of smokers] who thought vaping was less harmful than cigarettes declined from 45% in 2014 to 34% in 2019.
These misperceptions are particularly common among smokers who do not vape. Increasingly incorrect perceptions among the public about the harms of vaping could prevent some smokers using vaping products to quit smoking,” the report stated.
In its 2018 independent evidence review, the PHE concluded that “e-cigarettes are around 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.”
Published in March 2020, the agency’s latest report stated that, “Despite reductions in smoking prevalence, smoking remains the biggest single cause of preventable death and disease and a leading cause of health inequalities. So, alternative nicotine delivery devices that are less harmful could play a crucial role in reducing this health burden.”
The PHE report found that vaping remains most common among smokers and former smokers in England, with less than 1% of people who have never smoked currently vaping. It noted that smoking among adults in England has continued to decline over the past 10 years and in 2019 was around 15%. “The data presented…suggests that vaping has not undermined the declines in adult smoking.”
The report pointed out that while not risk-free, “vaping regulated nicotine products has a small fraction of the risks of smoking,” and that “smokers should be encouraged to try regulated nicotine vaping products along with smoking cessation medications and behavioral support”, as these would “greatly increase their chances of successfully stopping smoking.”
The PHE reminded people who have never smoked not to smoke and not to vape while encouraging vapers to use regulated nicotine products only and stop smoking completely.
PHE is an executive agency of the UK Department of Health and Social Care, consisting of scientists, researchers and public health professionals who provide the UK Government, Parliament, National Health Service, industry and the public with evidence-based professional, scientific expertise and support.
DOH should broaden tobacco control strategy
There are an estimated 16 million Filipino smokers, with the country having a low 4% smoking cessation rate. Department of Health (DOH) data show that almost 88,000 Filipinos die from smoking-related diseases every year.
Healthcare expenditures and lost income due to smoking-related sickness and premature death cost the country Php 188 billion (US$ 4 billion) yearly. These figures only cover four of more than 40 smoking-related diseases namely lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke.
“The DOH should broaden its tobacco control strategy,” said Virgino. “Combustion in cigarettes, not nicotine, is what is harmful to the health of smokers. As such, Filipino smokers who would otherwise continue smoking should be encouraged to switch to less harmful nicotine alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Doing so would significantly reduce smoking-related sickness and deaths in the country.”
According to Virgino, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products such as IQOS are forms of tobacco harm reduction (THR). “THR is a public health strategy that aims to provide safer alternatives to reduce harms caused by smoking and to provide nicotine to people who cannot or do not want to quit smoking by themselves or with currently-approved methods. Instead of sticking with the myopic ‘quit or die’ approach of the World Health Organization, the DOH should look at the emerging science and consider adopting THR in the country’s tobacco control strategy.”
THR is the key advocacy of CAPHRA, a regional alliance committed to educating, advocating and representing the right of adult alternative nicotine consumers to access and use of products that reduce harm from tobacco use.
Its country representatives work with THR experts and advocates from around the world.
CAPHRA members currently include Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.