The claim that we need a Vape Regulation Law to finally regulate e-cigarettes or vapes and heated tobacco products is another misinformation ploy by the tobacco and vape industries that seeks to derail tobacco control in the Philippines. In an era of fake news and misinformation, the tobacco industry has maximized its resources to spread lies against facts on the harms of these products and the regulatory regime in place in our country.
In the last week of January 2022, Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report on a bill that would regulate the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use, and communication of e-cigarettes or vapes and heated tobacco products. The industry claimed that this is a step forward to finally regulate these toxic products in the country. This is a big lie.
The truth is, the bicameral report provides less strict policies and a step back on existing regulations. The Vape Bill 2022 that Congress recently passed amounts to a full reversal of the laws and executive order signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Just six months apart, President Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) No. 11346 in July 2019 and RA 11467 in January 2020. These are sin tax laws that imposed taxation to these products. These two very new laws also mandated restrictions on their use, sale, manufacture, importation and distribution. RA 11467 is expected to be implemented by May 2022, yet we have this new bill reversing it.
RA 11346 mandated the application of graphic health warnings to vape products and restricted the use to those below 18 years old. RA 11467 further restricted the use of these products and increased age restriction to 21 years old below and to non-smokers. Flavors are also limited to plain tobacco and plain menthol. Moreover, RA 11467 upheld the mandate of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate these products, consistent with global practice. By virtue of the mandate given by these new laws, the Department of Health issued DOH-AO 2020-0055 implementing regulatory measures over vapes and heated tobacco products.
In 2020, President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) No. 106 which expanded President’s Smoke-free EO or EO 26 to vape products. EO 106 prohibits smoking in a comprehensive list of public places. It also provides a stricter process of registration of these products and prohibits their indiscriminate online sales and promotion.
Simply put, we have existing laws!
Yet, the tobacco and vape industry insist that we have no regulations, which some medical professionals willingly or unwittingly accept as fact. The Vape Bill 2022 is a downgrade from what we already have. It is dangerous for us medical professionals to support this present bill as we know that addiction to these products will lead to less quality of life of our children.
Contrary to the claims of the industry, the Vape Bill 2022 weakens existing regulations on vapes and similar harmful products. It removes a comprehensive prohibition of use in public places of these products; allows more vape flavors in our market that will attract the youth; removes prohibition against non-users to access these products; lowers minimum age of access from 21 to 18 years old; allows online sales, promotion and advertisements; and strips FDA of its mandate to regulate these products, among others.
It does not take rocket science to know who will benefit by this move of Congress.
We echo the manifestation of Senator Pia Cayetano, the main public health champion in the Senate opposing this move, in saying that the Vape Bill 2022 is masquerading as a health regulation. Over 60 health associations and civil society organizations, the Department of Health, and even the World Health Organization have expressed caution and opposition to this measure and continuously warned us about these products. As Rep. Allan Peter Cayetano said, the Vape Bill 2022 is a clear and present danger to the public and makes the issue of nicotine abuse from a public concern into a money-making endeavor. Indeed, Vape Bill 2022 is pro-industry and pro-profit.
From years of experience in public health and backed by scientific studies globally, the youth will be the ones that will suffer most from the retrogressive Vape Bill 2022. Seven former health secretaries even sounded the alarm that the Vape Bill 2022 is a huge step backward in protecting Filipinos’ health and it is a danger, especially in a pandemic.
Vape Bill 2022 is anti-health, anti-youth, and anti-poor. This proposed policy will lead to more young users of these products. There is an increasing trend of growing children and youth users of vape products globally and it is alarming how this will affect their health, especially their brain development due to nicotine, a very addictive substance which is a main ingredient. For sure, we do not want a future of nicotine addicts among our children and the youth.
The urgent solution is to have the Vape Bill 2022 vetoed by the President and return it to Congress for further deliberations, with the hopes that science, objective and not industry-influenced, will guide our lawmakers for a more just, pro-health, and youth-friendly policy.