MEDICAL ASSOCIATIONS on Monday decried as “fake news” claims that e-cigarettes and vapes are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes and vapes should not immediately be viewed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes,” said Dr. Michael S. Caampued, president of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians (PSPHS). “At present, it is dangerous to brand these novel products as helpful to those who want to stop cigarette smoking while there are still no high-quality evidence to back the claim.”

The best way to quit smoking, said pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Corry M. Avanceña, is through a mix of safe and doctor-recommended methods, including nicotine replacement therapy, counseling, and family support. “You shouldn’t replace an addiction with another addiction,” she said.

The doctors also raised their concerns about the measure passed by lawmakers on May 25 that would regulate the use and sale of e-cigarettes and vapes in the country, which includes lowering the age of those who can access it from 21 to 18 years old. “We have to remember that the brain continues to mature until our early 20s and that early exposure to nicotine could impair the brain’s development,” said Dr. Avanceña.

House Bill No. 9007, or the Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery Systems Act, also moves the regulatory powers over vapes and e-cigarettes to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). “This has to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” said Dr. Avanceña, questioning the DTI’s knowledge of the components of e-juice, or the consumable liquid most vapers use in their devices.

Over 80 chemicals that have been found in e-liquid and e-cigarette vapors. These chemicals include acrolein (an herbicide used to kill weeds) and propylene glycol (used to make paint solvent).

“We are now seeing a rise in cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in other countries,” said Dr. Avanceña, who pointed out that the Philippines recorded its first case in 2019. “These novel products emit aerosols containing chemicals that harm the lungs of the users and even the lungs of those around them.”

At a separate event organized by Johnson and Johnson, television celebrities Troy Montero and IC C. Mendoza shared how they kicked the habit with the help of a support system.

“Quitting is a journey that’s not meant to be done alone,” said Mr. Mendoza, who drew strength from his social media network, which cheered him on with every health milestone he posted, and from his sister, who policed him at home whenever he felt the desire to smoke.

Mr. Montero had a similar experience: “For me, it was my family and my health. Fatherhood did have a big role to play when I was trying to quit. It made me think, I need to set a good example for my family moving forward,” he said.

Quitting is a multi-modality treatment and is not just about medicines or patches, said Dr. Joel M. Santiaguel, a pulmonologist and fellow from the Philippine College of Chest Physicians. “There should also be a behavioral change. The individual must be motivated to quit. …  Do healthy and wholesome activities with friends and family that support your goal.” — Patricia B. Mirasol