PH at risk of becoming ‘vape colony’ with vape industry actively targeting Filipino youth — groups

Jose Francisco Luna

MANILA, Philippines — With the vape and e-cigarette industry targeting Filipino youth, the proposition of turning the Philippines into a manufacturing hub for e-cigarettes puts the country at risk of an epidemic of EVALI or e-cigarette or vape-associated lung injury.

“According to the latest Global Youth Tobacco Survey, approximately 1 out of every 7 Filipino youths aged 13-15 are now using vapes. This alarming trend is not a coincidence but a result of the tobacco industry’s calculated marketing tactics targeting the youth,” pulmonologist Dr. Maricar Limpin of the Action on Smoking and Health, warned during a roundtable discussion with media and young people on Thursday in Makati.

To recall, the Department of Trade and Industry touted the country as a potential hub for manufacturing heated tobacco before the international community at the International Tobacco Agricultural Summit in August 2023.

“We will not sit idly by and turn a blind eye to the predatory practices of this industry. By allowing the Philippines to position itself as a manufacturing hub, we are essentially paving the way for an EVALI epidemic,,” Limpin said. “It was just one case in 2019, but we’re beginning to observe more and more cases today, especially among young people,” she added.

EVALI is a medical condition causing lung damage from substances contained from vaping products. While there is no available data on the number of cases of EVALI and related injuries and deaths in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded the first case in the country in November 2019: a 16-year-old girl from the Visayas who was using both vape and cigarettes. As of February 2020, more nearly 3,000 patients had been admitted to hospitals in the United States due to EVALI, with 68 deaths reported so far.

“You’d expect this smoking behavior from a middle-aged smoker, but we saw it in a 16-year-old. With how accessible vapes are, tobacco is now an issue for children, too, and the growing EVALI cases are proof,” Dr. Riz Gonzalez, chair of the Philippine Pediatric Society Tobacco and Nicotine Control Advocacy Group said as she called on lawmakers to revisit the vape law, which transfers regulatory jurisdiction over vapes and other novel tobacco products from the Food and Drug Administration to the DTI.

“The tobacco industry is actively targeting the youth with flavors, colorful packaging, and misleading marketing tactics, and the free rein they get from the Vape Law is to blame. We’ve seen this playbook before with cigarettes, and we cannot allow an EVALI crisis to happen here in the Philippines.”

At the tenth Conference of Parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control last February in Panama, Manila’s delegation received the “Dirty Ashtray award” from civic watchdogs for delaying proceedings by up to three hours.

“Our delegation simply failed to uphold public health. Instead of advocating for reducing tobacco use, they proposed a ‘compromise’ which prioritizes profit over public health. The tobacco lobby’s hand is obvious,” said Au Quilala, Deputy Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development.

“We urge the government to prioritize the people over the interests of the industry by restricting these tactics targeting children. If this continues, the Philippines could end up becoming a vape colony,” Quilala finished.

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