E-cig lobby undermines international decision to protect public health

5 December 2016:

Four countries in the ASEAN region, namely Brunei, Cambodia Singapore and Thailand, have banned e-cigarettes, officially known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). The recent seventh session of the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP7) decided to invite Parties to prohibit or restrict the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of ENDS/ENNDS, as appropriate to their national laws and public health objectives. ENNDS refers to electronic non-nicotine delivery systems.

The e-cigarette lobby, which includes tobacco companies, does not want countries to strictly regulate or ban these products. The top transnational tobacco companies (PMI, BAT and JTI) have launched their e-cigarette products and are tactically repositioning themselves as part of the ‘harm reduction’ discussion. However, as long as tobacco companies continue to sell tobacco, which kill half their customers prematurely and cause 6 million deaths worldwide, their offer of less harmful products is duplicitous. In fact, BAT said it is “still focused on trying to grow our shares in combustible business.”

It appears some countries that took the position to prohibit or restrict ENDS/ENNDS at the COP have been targeted for criticisms by the e-cigarette lobby back home. For example, a false accusation was hurled at the Thai government by a Thai vape sympathiser on Facebook who has a following of over 1million fans. He posted a message that the Thai delegates was suddenly banned from the COP for taking a position that was against the European Union. The Thai Ministry of Health corrected the misinformation that was conveyed to the Thai public via social media.

The Philippines government supported the position to prohibit or restrict ENDS/ENNDS at the COP, which is consistent with the position of their neighbouring countries. Post COP, two local e-cigarette groups and a pro-tobacco industry columnist launched an attack in the media against the Chair of the Civil Service Commission, who headed the Philippines delegation to the COP, claiming she acted “outside her expertise”. See here, here and here.

While the pro-e-cigarette groups were attacking the Philippines government in the media, BAT simultaneously launched its own e-cigarette, Vype E-pen. According to BAT, the Philippines is the first country in the Asia and Pacific region to sell Vype E-pen, following successful launches in Europe and South America. The tobacco industry continues to profit from selling more nicotine-based products.

One blogger described the launch of BAT’s new product in a bar that one had to enter through “a 7-Eleven convenience store before entering a door without a sign, into a nondescript room.” According to this account, Vype is already being sold in about 100 branches of 7-Eleven stores. Apparently more places are set to sell this new nicotine product.

The Philippines e-cigarette business is taking a leaf from the Malaysian vape industry, that is, to rapidly make the product widely available throughout the country and scream when the government regulates it. In Malaysia, nicotine is a registered Class C poison in the Poison Act and requires a license to be sold. The e-cigarette community however did not want to obey the law and criticised the government for implementing the law.

Nicotine is addictive and classified as a poison in countries. The COP decision on ENDS is to either prohibit or restrict them. Countries considering legislation should pay heed to the action already taken in the four ASEAN countries who have banned them. E-cigarettes are not completely harmless. More studies on the harms of e-cigarette vapor are emerging. Many of the substances in the aerosols are toxicants that have known negative health effects.