Doubts raised over vaping’s safety claim


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‘The first time I used it, I felt great,” confessed Ken who was only 13 years old when his older brother brought home vape pens.

Ken watched as his brother demonstrated how to use the gadgets, thinking they were “cool.” Not long after, the then eighth grader who did not even have prior experience with cigarette smoking was hooked on vaping.

“I felt I was being cool. I felt I was being trendy,” he said.

According to Ken, he vaped as much and as often as he could because he could use the gadget regardless of what he was doing.

“The smell was also more pleasant than tobacco, which was addicting. During that time, I thought that e-cigarettes didn’t have any bad effects on the body, so I didn’t have any concerns using it,” he added.

Ken had been vaping for a year when his brother, who was the one buying the vapes, lost his job. With no one to fund his vice, he, for a time, would occasionally borrow his friends’ vapes.

But soon, Ken realized vaping was not only bad for his health; it could also jeopardize his future after he attended an event where they talked about the risks of vaping.

“I decided to completely get rid of it,” he said.

Less harmful, but not safe

There is literature that says that vapes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. But while this may be so, health professionals say that this does not make vapes and e-cigarettes safe.

In an article published in the Johns Hopkins web site, Dr. Michael Blaha, Director of Clinical Research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, wrote that like their traditional counterparts, vapes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is harmful and addicting.

“It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack,” Dr. Blaha writes.

He adds: “Emerging data suggests links to chronic lung disease and asthma and associations between the dual use of e-cigarettes and smoking with cardiovascular disease. You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of February 18, 2020, it has recorded a total of 2,807 people who have been hospitalized due to e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases. Of the total number, 68 deaths have been confirmed.

In the Philippines, the first confirmed case of EVALI involved a 16-year-old.

Not a cessation tool

Manufacturers tout vapes and e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools. However, they have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) as such. Moreover, they have not undergone clinical trials to ensure their safety.

Furthermore, these gadgets do not actually help people quit. They just make smokers switch from one form to another. Studies have also found that flavored vapes and e-cigarettes lure adolescents to smoke, or to become addicted to nicotine, such as the case with Ken.

The quitting process

Fortunately for Ken, now 17, he realized the negative effects of vaping early enough. And more importantly the process of quitting was not as difficult for him.

According to Ken, ironically, it was when he had stopped smoking that his body started improving. It was only then that he noticed the effects of smoking on him

“I realized that my being short tempered, my physical appearance—bloated face, dry lips, stained teeth, etc.—and sleep deprivation were caused by my use of the device. Now I feel really great. I’m physically and mentally healthy and I feel more confident than before,” he said.

DOH and WHO refute claim of ‘reduced harm’

The Department of Health (DOH), together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and medical societies warned the public on the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

“Electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products are sold in the market as alternatives for smokers trying to wean themselves off tobacco. Some studies claim that they contain fewer toxic chemicals and are less harmful alternatives to cigarettes,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

“We do not support their claim of reduced harm. These products endanger the health of both users and non-users, and are clearly not meant for children,” Duque stressed.

In response to the epidemic in the United States, WHO introduced International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 10 code U07.0, an international tool for classifying and monitoring diseases, to be used immediately for reporting of acutely ill patients who have used electronic cigarettes in the last 90 days, with no other plausible causes for illness.

Healthy, young people

An increase in vaping-related illnesses in the US has been reported in recent months, mostly afflicting otherwise healthy young people.

With 1,299 cases and 26 deaths reported, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US FDA are currently investigating the reports.

In support of WHO’s efforts, the DOH urged all government and private hospitals, clinics and other health facilities to use proper codes for designating vaping-related disorders to allow existing health information systems to capture data on vaping-related disorders.

Information on the potential harm of novel and emerging nicotine products can guide future policy directions for electronic cigarettes.

All health and allied health professionals are urged to be vigilant in identifying risks during routine clinical evaluations by taking the history of tobacco use and use of e-cigarettes or vapes in all patients.

The DOH also calls on the medical community, parents and teachers to help address the widespread use of electronic cigarettes, particularly among the youth and young adults.

Likewise, the department also urged users, especially pregnant women and young adults, to immediately stop and refrain from vaping and using all forms of e-cigarettes.

“People who have recently used e-cigarettes or other vaping products should immediately seek medical attention if they develop respiratory symptoms,” Duque concluded.

Contradicting the President’s Executive Order

In February 2020, President Duterte expanded his earlier nationwide smoking ban by signing Executive Order 106 which prohibits vaping or the use of e-cigarettes in public places. The EO also prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs), and novel tobacco products to people younger than 21 years old and requires the registration of such products and its components with the Food and Drug Administration.

In December 2020, however, Sen. Ralph Recto filed Senate Bill 1951 which seeks to lower the legal age for buying vapes and heated tobacco products from 21 to 18, alarming parents and health advocates.

“The bill allows vaping in places which are declared 100 percent vape and smoke free. This is alarming on so many levels. First it will be an enforcement problem when two similar products have two different rules. It will set back the ongoing implementation of the Philippine National Police on the President’s executive order. Second, allowing vaping in vape-free and smoke-free spaces will normalize this addiction in the eyes of the youth,” said Ralph Degollacion, Project Manager at HealthJustice Philippines. Parents Against Vapes (PAV), a newly formed coalition of multi-sectoral groups which include Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, JCI Lakambini Davao, Philippine Society of Private Midwife Clinic Owners Inc., and Federation of PTA in Region 11, echoed Degollacion.

In December, the coalition signed a Parents’ Manifesto supporting the President’s call to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places nationwide, and calls for the banning of all vape and e-cigarette flavors and the sale of e-cigarettes in areas accessible to children, such as malls.


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