News Seeing through the Smoke

PH delegation to WHO conference on tobacco control urged to take stand against vapes

At the ninth session of the Conference of Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in November 2021, the Philippine delegation openly expressed support for the tobacco industry and its alternative products including e-cigarettes.

This drew outrage from local civil society groups and called the position a betrayal.

The delegation also actively pushed to amend a provision in the global forum’s prepared agenda on the first day of the conference, earning for the Philippines the “Dirty Ashtray” award given by international watchdog Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) to governments perceived as backers of the tobacco industry’s interests.

Prior to the start of the 10th session of the COP to be held in Panama (Feb. 5-10, 2024), 11 former senior health and education officials in a statement urged the Philippine delegation to stand against e-cigarettes for the sake of the country’s youth.

The joint statement aligns with the WHO’s position on the health dangers of vapes, which contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical, and generate other toxic substances that cause cancer and increase risk of heart and lung diseases, according to HealthJustice, a public health think tank.

Following is the statement:

URGENT: PH Delegation to the WHO FCTC COP10 must uphold the highest standard of health and be transparent and accountable

We call on the Philippine delegation to the Tenth Session of the Conference of Parties (COP10) of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Panama to affirm our commitments under the FCTC, and 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.

The facts and science on e-cigarettes are clear. They are ineffective for quitting tobacco use at the population level, and they are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts among Filipino youth. They contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug that impairs human brain development. E-cigarettes also generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and increase the risk of heart and lung diseases.

Essentially, e-cigarettes are just as dangerous and addictive as smoking cigarettes. To say otherwise is to deceive the public, and most especially our youth, the sector most prone to such deception.

We warned of the grave consequences during the congressional deliberations of the then proposed Vape Regulations bill (now RA 11900) may have on public health. The warnings we raised on the relaxation of polices on e-cigarettes have become a tragic reality in the country.

Treating e-cigarettes as consumer products spurred their uptake and use among the Filipino youth, undermining, if not totally reversing, the gains made in the past decade to reduce tobacco consumption.

E-cigarette use has increased to a staggering 14% of our youth population aged 13-15 years old, which translates to millions of young users of e-cigarettes in the country. Globally, adolescents are using e-cigarettes at rates higher than for adults.

We also call on the delegation to observe full transparency and accountability in the designation of its members in line with the obligations of State Parties under Article 5.3 of the FCTC to protect tobacco control from the vested and commercial interests of the tobacco industry. Transparency and accountability of its policy positions at COP 10 should be observed as these will impact domestic and global approaches in tobacco control. The delegation should speak rather than hide, whitewash, or disguise the truth of the serious threat to public health brought about by weak Philippine regulation on e-cigarettes.

Doing so will convince other State Parties to adopt and support robust regulations on e- cigarettes. It will also send a strong message to the global community that we are not relinquishing our leadership in working with other State Parties in protecting health policies from the bullying tactics of the tobacco industry that only care for its profits at the expense of the health of the Filipino people.

Fight against vapes for our youth.

Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan (DOH Secretary, 1995)

Dr. Carmencita Reodica (DOH Secretary, 1996-1998)

Dr. Manuel Dayrit (DOH Secretary, 2001- 2005),

Dr. Esperanza Cabral (DSWD Secretary 2005-2009 and DOH Secretary 2010)

Dr. Paulyn Rosell Ubial (DOH Secretary, 2016-2017)

Atty. Alexander Padilla (DOH Undersecretary, 2001- 2009)

Dr. Susan Mercado (DOH Undersecretary, 1998-2001)

Dr. Madeleine Valera (DOH Undersecretary, 2012-2013)

Bro. Armin Luistro (DepEd Secretary, 2010-2016)

Atty. Alberto Muyot (DepEd Undersecretary, 2010-2016)

Mr. Rey Laguda (DepEd Undersecretary, 2015-2016)