After intense debate, a proposed law seeking to regulate the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes or vaping products was approved by the Senate on third and final reading on Thursday.
The vote was 19-2, with 2 abstentions, for Senate Bill No. 2239, which sets restrictions to the use and sale of vaporized nicotine products (VNP), including an age limit for its users.
But the approved version of the bill actually lowers the minimum age of allowed users from 21 years old to 18, and takes vape products away from the regulatory powers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and into the ambit of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The bill’s staunchest critic, Sen. Pia Cayetano, took the floor after the vote to deliver a scathing speech on its passage.
“This Senate has allowed a provision in this bill that will now turn over that duty [of regulation] to the DTI. What business does the DTI have to regulate health? To ensure that the flavors and scents of those products that we inhale now [will be inhaled] by anyone that is 18 years and 1 day old?” she said.
Four percent of Filipinos use vape products, according to a Pulse Asia survey that was conducted on Sept. 6-11 among 1,200 respondents nationwide to gain insight on vaping and e-cigarette habits in the country. Its results were released in November.
Seventy-seven percent of Filipinos believe that vape products are a serious health hazard, 74 percent support a 100-percent “vapes-free policy” in public places, and 70 percent support a policy restricting access to vapes and e-cigarettes to those at least 21 years old.
In her speech, Cayetano noted how, in the 2019 deliberations on the then proposed amendments to the “sin tax” bills, heated tobacco products (HTPs) and VNPs were regarded as “sin” products that Congress decided to regulate through prohibitive tax impositions.
She said that back then, the Senate intended to limit users to those at least 21 years old and to limit the flavors to plain tobacco and plain menthol, and that in discussions on sin tax laws, Congress had always given the power of regulation to the FDA.
“Here today, we witness history. SB 2239 reverses the protective measures that we as a Congress, as a Senate, put in. Why would we reduce it, Your Honors?” she said.
Cayetano said the FDA had been regulating other products that “have the potential to do much good,” such as insect repellants, skin lotions, perfumes, sun blocks, and essential oils.
She pointed out that the US FDA had banned some 55,000 vape flavors because they “did not meet the scrutiny of public health.”
“It hurts me deeply, that I have not been able to convince my colleagues, [that] simply … allowing the FDA to do its job is not good enough for this Senate. It hurts me that I am unable to communicate that well, because what I hear, we want to give this product a chance to save lives,” she said.
Cayetano also expressed regret that her colleagues had rejected her proposed amendments to the bill, including raising the age limit for allowable vape use to at least 21.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon likewise delivered a speech to clarify that his vote on the measure was a “critical yes,” in order to provide smokers a chance to quit and have an alternative in e-cigarettes and vape products.
“My vote comes with a caveat that if and when it is conclusively and concretely shown that vaping is as harmful as cigarette smoking, and that [vape products] have instead ensnared our youth into addiction, I would come back to the Senate as a retiree to ask and beg you, my esteemed colleagues, for a repeal of this measure,” he said.
Drilon said his vote should not be taken to mean he had changed his antismoking stance.
“I do not need a surgeon general’s warning to say that smoking is harmful to one’s health. Smoking kills, period,” he said.
Drilon also noted how in the last two decades, the government had used “compulsion and coercion as [its] main weapons against cigarette smoking.”
“Perhaps it is time to use persuasion,” he said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said that while he had voted in favor of the bill, it was “with serious reservations” that he vowed to explain at length in writing.
In February 2020, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 106 ordering a ban on the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of unregistered vaping products and their use in public places.
House Bill No. 9007, or the proposed “Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery Systems Regulation Act,” which seeks to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of less harmful alternatives to cigarettes such as vapes and HTPs, was approved by the House of Representatives in May.
The bill prohibits, among others, the sale to minors of vape products and HTPs; the use of these products in all enclosed public places (except in designated areas), schools, hospitals, government offices and facilities intended for minors; and the sale or distribution of these products within 100 meters from the perimeter of a school, playground, or other facility frequented by minors. —With a report from Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives, congress.gov.ph, Pulse Asia