Reducing harm in nicotine use

    Tikki Pang
    Tikki Pang

    Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as vape products have recently been under scrutiny by the public as its popularity continues to grow. First envisioned in the late ‘20s, the first commercial e-cigarette was made in mid-2000’s and since then, its use has continued to grow as more people switch from traditional cigarettes to vape products to get their nicotine kick.

    However, reports of explosions by improper device usage, as well as more recent news of teenagers being admitted to hospitals due to lung issues after vaping counterfeit cannabinoid oil cartridges have had officials taking a closer look at the vaping industry.

    For harm reduction expert Dr. Tikki Pang, while regulation is a welcome development, this should be based on issues these. Instead, ENDS should be seen from a harm reduction standpoint, specifically, its potential to help smokers quit the habit and not consider ENDS as a tobacco product from a tax perspective.

    Pang underscored that those in lower income bracket make up the majority smokers. He noted that taxing ENDS and vape products would price them out of reach for those who could stand to benefit from it.

    “If you increase the tax, these products will be less affordable for the 17 million smokers in the Philippines so the whole idea of using these products to help them quit smoking will become a no-brainer. They can’t afford it, and then they will continue smoking,” Pang said.

    A former World Health Organization director for research policy and cooperation, Pang said that countries should also take into consideration local factors in drafting up health regulations and frameworks and not just rely on information from the international community. “You should make your decision based on your own local context, including criteria like how big is your disease burden and that you have 16 million smokers. That’s huge,” he shared.

    “One of the most important ways to move forward is to have a more effective and integrated advocacy and communication strategy to push for policy and behavioral change. This should be based on better understanding of local factors. Your own conditions, your own priorities, the culture, the way your own smokers think about smoking and about quitting,” he added.

    The vaping industry in the country is currently in the crossroads with the looming end of the transitory period of the licensing regulation of ENDS in the Philippines. First published in July this year, the administrative order mandates manufacturers and distributors of ENDS to get the necessary registration.

    For Dr. Pang, finding the way forward should be a collaborative process. “The focus of our efforts is to promote harm reduction and directly opposing those in authority is not the way to go about it,” he said.