Vaporized Nicotine Product Bill Will Save Lives and Foster Innovation
Philippine lawmakers made the rational decision to improve Filipino well-being and reduce tobacco harm by passing the vaporized nicotine product (VNP) bill. The Senate approved Senate Bill No. 2239 on December 16, 2021, while the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 9007 on May 25, 2021.
Support for vaping is the logical public policy conclusion that follows volumes of scientific research. Tobacco kills more than 8 million people per year and the total economic cost of smoking (health expenditures and productivity losses together) is estimated to be 1.8% of the annual world GDP. In the Philippines, roughly a quarter of adults use tobacco and 18.7 percent (13.1 million) of adults currently smoke tobacco daily with an average of 11 cigarettes per day according to the 2021 Global Adult Tobacco Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority. Reducing smoking prevalence is the key to reducing harm from tobacco.
Vaping and e-cigarettes are a significantly less dangerous form of nicotine consumption. The health ministry of England concluded that vaping was at least 95 percent less harmful to health than smoking. A group of 79 leading health professionals and academics from across the globe wrote to President Duterte in support of the VNP Bill.
“In our studies on this subject, we found consistent improvements in respiratory symptoms, exercise tolerance, quality of life, and rate of disease exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases who abstained from smoking or substantially reduced their cigarette consumption by switching to e-cigarettes.”
Some smokers will switch to e-cigarettes and vaping products and even more will switch if incentivized to do so. About one million Filipino smokers report having completely switched from smoking to e-cigarettes. Early research on the subject also suggests that e-cigarettes may have a stronger effect than traditions nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) – nicotine patches, gums, and lozenges – in part because of the sensory and behavioral similarity of vaping to smoking. Two recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the research conclude that e-cigarettes support cessation.
On the contrary, measures against such reduced harm alternative products will only serve to further increase the smoking trend and the problems associated with it. For instance, in the US, persistent public health lobby against harm reduction or the use of less harmful alternatives and aversion to innovation were likely behind the recent increase in cigarette sales, with cigarette smoking increasing for the first time in two decades.
Simply put, vaping helps smokers switch to a much less dangerous method of nicotine consumption. In partnership with four economists in Malaysia, last year I published a report that identifies the International Best Practices for Tobacco and Nicotine Public Policy. In that study, we emphasize that policies which encourage smokers to move from smoking to tobacco to e-cigarettes or vaping will save lives.
Even from an economic perspective, there are clear benefits from the passage of the VNP bill. By establishing clear balanced regulations, the bill will help vape shops, that are currently small businesses, effectively transition to become part of the formal economy, thereby boosting local businesses and workers. This will also stop illegal, unregulated and unsafe products from entering the market, which would not only lead to better consumer protection, but would also safeguard local employment and investment in legitimate local industries. Lastly, the move to liberalize the use of vaping products will have benefits that we cannot yet predict. Human ingenuity knows few bounds and by creating an environment in which innovation can be rewarded, we can expect new products that will be safer and more attractive to consumers. Such an environment will encourage recurring investments in innovation and job creation thereby further improving the global competitiveness of Philippines. Indeed, public policy should remove as many barriers as possible (such as prohibitions and extremely strict regulations) from the work needed to create, develop, and sell innovative products. The VNP bill is a huge step in the right direction.
Adam Hoffer is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and a PRA International Fellow.