Health advocates urge Philippines to resist tobacco industry pressure at global conference

Health advocates and former government officials have urged the Philippines to take a strong stand against e-cigarettes and vape products at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is being held in Panama from February 5 to 10.

The Philippines is one of the 182 parties to the WHO FCTC, a global treaty that aims to protect people from the harmful effects of tobacco and to promote public health policies to reduce tobacco consumption and exposure. The treaty also requires parties to implement measures to prevent the interference of the tobacco industry in health policies.

As a signatory to the WHO FCTC, the Philippines has enacted several laws and regulations to curb tobacco use, such as the Sin Tax Reform Law, the Graphic Health Warnings Law, and the Executive Order No. 26 that bans smoking in public places. However, the country still faces challenges in implementing and enforcing these policies, especially in the face of the aggressive marketing and lobbying of the tobacco industry and its allies.

E-cigarettes and vape products are not safe alternatives to tobacco

One of the main issues that the COP10 will address is the regulation of novel and emerging tobacco and nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and vape products, which are often marketed as safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes or as cessation aids. However, these claims are not supported by scientific evidence and are contradicted by the findings of the WHO and other health authorities.

According to the WHO, e-cigarettes and vape products are not harmless and pose significant health risks to users and non-users. They contain toxic substances and nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the brain development of adolescents. They also increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. Moreover, they can act as a gateway to tobacco use among young people and undermine the efforts to denormalize smoking.

Health advocates call for a strong and unified stance against the tobacco industry

In a joint statement, former senior government officials, including former Health secretaries and former Education chief, called on the Philippine delegation to the COP10 to “take the lead in pushing for, supporting, and promoting policies preventing the uptake of all recreational tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, to protect present and future generations from the devastating harms of tobacco use and nicotine addiction.”

They also urged the government to review and amend the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, which lapsed into law in 2022, and which they said was influenced by the tobacco industry. The law allows individuals as young as 18 years old to purchase vaping products, loosens the existing flavor restrictions, and transfers the regulatory authority from the Food and Drug Administration to the Department of Trade and Industry.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Philippines, a leading anti-smoking advocacy group, also appealed to the government to prioritize the health of Filipinos over the trade of tobacco products. ASH Philippines executive director Maricar Limpin said that they have seen cases of people suffering from respiratory problems after using e-cigarettes or vape products for a short period of time. She also warned of the long-term effects of these products, such as cancer, heart and brain attacks.

“We have to protect the health of the Filipinos and put a premium on it over trade. The reduced harm claim peddled by the industry is not backed up by scientific evidence and is a mere marketing ploy of the industry to entice people including the young. Human lives are at stake here,” Limpin said.

COP10 is an opportunity to advance global tobacco control

The COP10 is the highest decision-making body of the WHO FCTC and is attended by representatives from the parties to the treaty, as well as observers from non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and the media. The COP10 will discuss and adopt decisions on various topics related to the implementation and enforcement of the treaty, such as the illicit trade of tobacco products, the liability of the tobacco industry, the economic and environmental impact of tobacco, and the development of cessation services and support.

The COP10 is also an opportunity for the parties to share their best practices and challenges in tobacco control, and to strengthen their cooperation and solidarity in the face of the common threat posed by the tobacco industry. The COP10 is expected to adopt a declaration that will reaffirm the parties’ commitment to the WHO FCTC and its objectives, and to call for more action and resources to achieve a tobacco-free world.

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