70 percent of Filipinos favor vaping

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In Photo: A Filipino uses an electronic cigarette outside a mall in Manila.

By Lyn Resurreccion

TJ Villaruz placed a tube to his mouth, and a few seconds later a cloud of “smoke” billowed. But the smoke had no tobacco stench. It smells of cinnamon.

In Photo: Various types of e-cigarettes
[/media-credit] In Photo: Various types of e-cigarettes

No, Villaruz, 27, was not smoking a conventional cigarette. He was using electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). And the cloud emitted was not smoke—it was vapor

A former cigarette smoker, Villaruz turned to vaping in 2012 when he experienced chest pains, which has since gone. Also, his appetite for food has improved.

4 percent Filipinos use e-cigarettes

Villaruz could be among the 4 percent of Filipinos who use e-cigarettes regularly or occasionally as alternative to conventional cigarettes that factasia.org, a consumer advocacy group, has found in a survey it commissioned recently.

The survey also found out that seven out of 10 Filipinos (70 percent) are in favor of e-cigarettes as alternative to tobacco products.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos research agency for factasia.org from July 26 to August 9. Surveyed were 600 respondents aged 18 and above in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao.

Heneage Mitchell, cofounder of factasia.org, said at a recent news conference announcing the survey results that 70 percent of the respondents would consider switching to e-cigarette “if they were legal, met quality and safety standards and were conveniently available.”

He said almost nine out of 10 of adult smokers (86 percent) agree they should have the right to access information about less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, and almost eight out of 10 (76 percent) agree the government should encourage them to switch to less harmful products by easing fiscal and regulatory policies.

However, the Philippine government recently announced that President Duterte is set to sign an order banning smoking in public places—indoor or outdoor—including public vehicles. The ban will include e-cigarettes, news reports said.

Safe alternative to cigarettes

The survey was conducted to ask the consumers on their views on safer alternatives to cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes, that do not burn tobacco and do not produce the hazardous particulates, tar and smoke in conventional cigarettes. It was also done “in order to gain a better understanding of Asian consumers’ demand for less harmful alternative to tobacco.”

Michell said only 15 percent of the survey respondents have tried e-cigarettes. He said world public- health and tobacco-control experts encourage the use of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative for smokers who have difficulty to quit smoking or enjoy nicotine.

Global health experts, he added, describe e-cigarettes as “more than 95 percent safer than smoking” and “no more harmful than coffee.”

Mitchell said advocates of tobacco control have recognized that nicotine patches and gum are ineffective alternative to cigarette, making 64 percent of those who stopped smoking reverting to cigarettes.

He said in the United Kingdom e-cigarettes are “encouraged” by Public Health England, which recently reported that e-cigarettes are the most popular aid to quitting smoking, which has reached an all-time high.

What is e-cigarette?

E-cigarette was invented in 2003 by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, according to Internet sources. Since e-cigarettes were brought to the market in 2004, their global use has risen exponentially. As of 2015 most e-cigarettes are made in China.

An e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device. It vaporizes a flavored liquid, popularly known in the Philippines as juice. The user inhales the vapor. The fluid in the e-cigarette is made of pharmacological-standard nicotinepropylene glycol, glycerine and flavorings.

The components of e-cigarettes are e-liquids or e-juice, a glass or plastic vial container of e-liquid, cartridge, atomizer, battery, cartomizer and clearomizer, digital display or lights to adjust settings, tank systems, drip tips, flavorings and programable software.

E-cigarettes in the Philippines could be bought from stores in malls or in small shops.

Harmful effects of cigarettes

E-cigarettes became popular as people were searching for an alternative to cigarette that has become known to harm nearly every organ of the body and has caused many diseases.

Cigarette smoking causes lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and most cases of lung cancer.

Cigarette smoke contains 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing compounds and 400 other toxins.

Besides nicotine—which makes smoking addictive—cigarette ingredients include toxic ingredients as tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane.

Smokers-turned-vapers

Former cigarette smokers affirmed that their health problems related to smoking disappeared when they turned to e-cigarette.

Tom Pinlac, president of TheVapers.ph, a group of previous smokers, said before he turned to e-cigarette, he had experienced shortness of breath and high blood pressure. He started vaping two years ago and has since been having stable
blood pressure.

He said in the same news briefing that members of his group are “looking for truth on the use of e-cigarettes.” Despite limited information, he said at least they “have a choice.”

He agreed that vaping is a “good alternative” to cigarette smoking. Besides providing the vaper’s need for nicotine, it mimics the smoking motion of putting something in the mouth.

Alan Marciano, 39, secretary- general of ProVape, a 13,000-strong consumer group, told the same news conference he started smoking cigarettes when he was 15. He turned to vaping four years ago when his wife got pregnant.

He resorted to nicotine patch and gum alternatives but he later turned to vaping, like Pinlac, in order to satisfy his “physical addiction…and psychological addiction associated with smoking, which is the motion of puffing and blowing smoke.”

He told the BusinessMirror: “While other alternatives may deliver the nicotine fix we need, only vaping can address our psychological needs.”

Marciano said vaping has “a lot of advantages” as he currently feels “energetic” and “lighter”.

He encourages smokers to read up on vaping. “Don’t make assumptions based on unsubstantiated claims and anecdotal or testimonial evidences. There have been several scientific studies done in recent years, which show that vaping is a lot safer than smoking, and I’m quite confident that there will be a lot more in the coming years. And if you do decide to switch, please be a responsible vaper. Don’t vape where you can’t smoke, and use the device only as intended.”

Joey Dulay, president of Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association Inc. (Pecia), started vaping in 2010 and has been of better
health since.

Pecia, the largest association of e-cigarette and e-juice manufacturers and importers in the Philippines, has some 80 member stores employing an about 250 people. It accounts for more than 50 percent of e-cigarettes sold domestically.

Pecia members “strictly adhere to the highest standards of quality in the manufacture and selection of products that we import for sale to the public. We also employ self-regulation,” by being against the marketing to and sale of e-cigarette products to and by minors, the group said in a position paper sent to the BusinessMirror.

Dulay said e-cigarette units could not be used for illegal drugs.

Economical

Besides being beneficial to health, e-cigarette is more economical because a P150 to P200 of 30 milliliter (ml) of juice bottle is good for three to four days, or around P50 a day, compared to P70 for each pack of cigarettes.

Pinlac said he used to smoke two to three packs of cigarettes a day that cost him P210 daily.

An e-cigarette unit costs from P1,000 to P8,000, depending on the brand, but it is economical in the long run.

He said the e-cigarette technology in the country is improving and its use depends on the capacity of the unit’s battery. Some units even have computerized chips to enable the user to adjust the heat of the coil.

‘No’ side effects

Asked by reporters if e-cigarette has side effects, “No,” Marciano replied. “Besides stomach acidity or constipation, I did not experience any side effect,” he said.

Pinlac said, “[Talk of vaping] side effect is a laughing matter in our group. You smell a lot better than when you were smoking cigarette,” which emits foul tobacco stench.

Pinlac, who had sore throat when he started vaping, said one would only have an “adjustment period” of around one month, before one could settle to the amount of nicotine and flavor one requires.

Citing the World Health Organization, Mitchell said it has acknowledged that e-cigarette has no long-term side effect.

“Yes, it is addictive [because of the nicotine content], but it is just similar to caffeine addiction,” he told reporters.

Mitchell further clarified that “nicotine is not the cause of cancer. Carcinogen is found in burning cigarette.”

“In vaping, there is no smoke, no tar, no carginogen, no carbon monoxide,” he said

The level of nicotine of e-cigarette is 3 milligrams (mg) to 18 mg per bottle, Pinlac said.

Pinlac added that some vapers no longer crave for nicotine but would just want to have the motion of puffing and blowing vapor.

Regulation needed

Pinlac, Marciano, Dulay and Mitchell agreed that there is need for legislation and institutional support in the Philippines in order to regulate the technology and protect the users.

Pinlac said due to lack of government regulation and information on e-cigarette, vapers resort to inquiring among themselves online about the products available, their quality and safety, and the manufacturers.

“As consumers, we are trying to reach to each other to protect ourselves,” Pinlac said. “We need to inform and encourage the people to use e-cigarette, which has more benefits.”

Consumers have the right to know, Marciano said. “We need to let the people know [about e-cigarettes] and have it regulated so it would be more accessible [to consumers.]”

He added: “We need help.”

Marciano said his organization was formed primarily in order to self-regulate.

“Instead of waiting for government regulations, we took the initiative to police our ranks [vapers and retailers] and ensure that all local vapers are practicing safe vaping…. Starting as a community that simply shared our personal experiences with vaping, it gradually turned into a group that shared news and studies supporting our advocacy.

“Now we’re seeking to engage the government in reasonable discussions to outline regulations that both parties [vapers and government] are actually pushing for,” Marciano told the BusinessMirror.

Mitchell said owing to lack of regulation, some e-cigarette products in the market could be harmful to consumers. He cited Malaysia, which has thousands of e-cigarette flavors, but since they are unregulated, the consumers might be in danger.

factasia.org, an independent, not-for-profit, consumer-oriented advocate, recommends full retail availability of appropriately regulated e-cigarettes for product quality and safety, and with age-sale restrictions.

“There is a clear need for action in the Philippines to regularize the industry and establish quality standards, tax the products rationally and ensure they are made available only to adults, like many other consumer items,” Mitchell said.

“The government [in the Philippines] has a great opportunity to ensure there is no repeat of the situation that has arisen with conventional tobacco products, where 10 percent to 15 percent of total consumption is illicit—smuggled or counterfeit products,” he said.

Proposed principles

Pecia proposes the following principles to guide the approach on e-cigarettes in the country:

  1. Tobacco-harm reduction is aligned with good public-health policy and it is dangerous to hamper the choice of switching to e-cigarettes.
  2. E-cigarettes should only be sold or marketed to adult smokers. Their use by pregnant or lactating mothers should be prohibited.
  3. Any health claim should be evidence-based.
  4. Any form of regulation that will make e-cigarettes less available to adult smokers than conventional cigarettes is counterproductive and should be avoided.
  5. Only pharmaceutical grade nicotine should be used for e-cigarettes.
  6. Regulations should ensure that only quality products are used for e-cigarettes, through the form of Certificates of Analysis provided by suppliers that the Food and Drug Administration approved.
  7. Proper labeling for child-proof bottles of e-liquid that contain nicotine should also be implemented, that they should be used by smokers only, and that they should not be sold to minors.

“The potential for e-cigarettes to lower the incidence of smoking-related disease is huge. The knee-jerk impulse to suppress and dismiss them as regular cigarettes should be resisted. Regulations should, instead, be tailored to realize its full potential,” Pecia said in its position paper.

Vested interests against vaping

Some vested interests, Pinlac, Marciano, Dulay and Mitchell agreed, are against e-cigarette in order to protect the sales of other cigarette alternatives, which are not as effective.

They added that the other threats to vaping are misinformation and lack of information, which result in public fears and paranoia.

They said anti-e-cigarette campaign have adverse effect on reducing cigarette smoking.

Mitchell added: “E-cigarettes are here to stay and consumers deserve the protection of regulation and standards that they expect in other products and sectors. Our survey shows they are calling for positive government action.”

For now, vapers, like Villaruz, so far, have found their alternative to smoking.