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Seoul Declaration asks Philippines for fair regulation of nicotine products

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Public health experts and consumer groups from Asia-Pacific have called on the Philippine government to impose risk-proportionate regulation on safer nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco, and Swedish snus to encourage Filipinos to switch from smoking cigarettes.

“We call on the government of the Philippines to allow its citizens to have access to safer alternatives to cigarettes through risk-proportionate regulation of safer nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco and snus,” the Seoul Declaration which was signed by experts and consumer groups on August 29, 2019 stated.

Hundreds of experts and consumers from 18 countries gathered at GLAD Hotel Yeouido in Seoul, South Korea to attend the 3rd Asia Harm Reduction Forum which was jointly organized by the Korea Harm Reduction Association and Yayasan Pemerhati Kesehatan Publik (YPKP) Indonesia.

Nancy Sutthoff, the executive coordinator of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocates, said the Seoul Declaration is a consumer declaration calling on the governments of Thailand, India, and the Philippines to address their planned ban or restrictive policies on tobacco harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes, HNB devices and snus.

“We decided to do a Seoul Declaration to address these issues and get as many signatures as we can from consumers and experts in the region so that these declarations can be hand-delivered to those respective governments,” Sutthoff who is also the managing director of Paraclete Associates Ltd. said.

“In the Philippines, it is not about a ban but about restrictive regulation. In India and Thailand, it is about reversing bans or preventing bans from happening. Right now, in India, within 10 days, they are supposed to ban everything nationwide. In Thailand, there are discussions about lifting the ban for only tourists because they are losing tourism dollars,” Sutthoff said.

The Seoul Declaration urged the Philippine government to “realize that smoking causes the vast majority of tobacco-related death and diseases”.

“Burning tobacco is the main cause of smoking-related diseases, not nicotine or inhaling vapor. Tobacco use causes at least one million deaths per year in the Philippines, and smoking causes the majority. E-cigarettes provide smokers with an option to get away from smoking and could hasten the demise of the cigarette. We should all want to see that,” the declaration stated.

Experts and consumers said the Philippine government should recognize that vaping is dramatically safer than cigarettes and has helped millions quit smoking.

“Vaping is not smoking. It uses electronic devices to generate a nicotine-containing vapor without burning tobacco. Public Health England’s annual reviews of all available evidence have consistently concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95-percent less harmful than smoking. Millions of people have switched from cigarettes to these significantly safer products. Governments charged with protecting public health should welcome that, not discourage it,” the declaration said.

The Seoul Declaration also reminded the Philippine government that harm reduction is at the core of the Philippines' international treaty obligations. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control defines ‘tobacco control’ as ‘a range of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies that aim to improve the health of a population’.

It said that restrictive regulations and bans serve only to protect the cigarette industry. “Concerns that vaping may appeal to youth or may serve as a ‘gateway’ to smoking are inconsistent with the evidence as e-cigarettes have been gateways out of smoking for millions and have been accompanied by declining youth smoking rates,” it said.

“Instead of regulating these products harsher than the tobacco products that kill people, the government should regulate e-cigarettes to maximize the benefits of low-risk alternatives while minimizing the likelihood they will be used by youth or non-smokers,” the declaration stated.

It said that safer nicotine products should be encouraged, not attacked with the same vehemence as cigarettes or, worse, banned.

“The government of the Philippines should avoid being perceived as promoting the interests of cigarette and pharmaceutical industries, and smokers should not be forced to choose between deadly cigarettes and marginally effective nicotine replacement therapies,” the declaration said.

“Remember that public health is about people. With appropriate regulation, you can help thousands of Filipino vapers and tens of millions of Filipino smokers by simply telling them the truth: although the best option is not using any nicotine-containing products, switching to a regulated vape product is better than continuing to smoke,” it said.

Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a cardiologist and researcher at Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Greece, said during the same forum that countries and governments should realize that harm reduction is a human right enshrined in the 1986 World Health Organization Ottawa Charter which states that, “people cannot achieve their fullest health potential unless they are able to take control of those things which determine their health.”

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