By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Pia Cayetano said on Thursday she believes that a ban on e-cigarettes is in order, noting how members of the industry negatively reacted to President Duterte’s order banning the use of vapes.
In a statement, Cayetano, who chairs the Senate ways and means committee, the primary committee tackling the higher sin tax law or Senate Bill No. 1047, said she believes that the President’s announcement imposing a total ban on the importation and use of vapes is a good move.
Cayetano said she will tackle the issue when the panel resumes deliberations on the bill that imposes higher taxes and alcohol products.
“Over the months, I’ve read numerous studies and reports on e-cigarettes, conducted hearings, had discussions with health advocates, including experts in the World Health Organization (WHO), and listened to the industry and the speakers they arranged for me to meet,” Cayetano said.
“All of these led me to conclude that: We are dealing with products that clearly have health risks despite the industry and their supporters saying the risks are less than smoking and that they are an effective device to help smokers quit; these health risks are still being documented and studied; and some of these products have caused deaths and severe illnesses in various forms,” she said.
“What this means is that we must really assess if this is a product that should be outrightly banned, as has been already done in some countries like Australia, Singapore, Brazil, etc., or strictly regulated, which was the direction I was taking as chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee,” she stressed.
Cayetano, however, said she views the President’s recent pronouncement to ban e-cigarettes as an assertion of the authority of the State to restrict the use of any consumer product that endangers public health.
“I agree that when the people’s health is at risk, public interest must always take precedence over any business or commercial interest,” said the senator.
Cayetano recalled that the e-cigarette industry was previously given the opportunity to work and thresh out issues with the government.
The Department of Health (DOH) issued AO 2019-0007 last August to lay down regulations for e-cigarettes products. Members of the e-cig industry chose to question the AO in court instead of welcoming the government regulation.
Against this background, Cayetano said the Philippines encountered its very first case of electronic cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) which was reported last weekend involving a 16-year-old girl.
“No issue can be resolved if members of the industry would insist on shunning any form of regulation by constantly suing the DOH and FDA. With this attitude, a ban is really in order,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano said she will wait for the President to formally release the Executive Order but will continue to see to it that products viewed as a threat to public will be subject to higher tax.
“I await the EO from the President. Until then, these products that everyone, even those in the industry, recognize as harmful are in the market, and should be taxed. And it is still my job to see this bill through,” she said.
Sen. Francis Tolentino also fully welcomed President Duterte’s decision to ban the use of e-cigarettes in the country, saying it is “very timely and consistent with what medical science studies currently recommend.”
“We should consider the health of the youth as a priority. Likewise, the use of the precautionary principle is now a well-accepted practice in confronting societal problems,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said he does not support the ban on e-cigarettes.
“No I don’t (support it). Many studies suggest that there are e-cigarettes that are less harmful than cigarettes,” Recto said in a text message.
But Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, chair of the Senate health committee, stressed the need for the public to be more cautious in using these products because of the limited knowledge available on its potential adverse effects.
Go also emphasized that between profit and health, the health safety and security of Filipinos should remain top priority.
“Alam niyo, isipin na lang po natin ang kalusugan ng ating madadamay. Profit ng negosyante o kalusugan ng Pilipino, pipiliin ko po ang health ng Pilipino. Kalusugan ng bawat Pilipino at magiging ligtas ang kanilang buhay at hindi madadamay (ang) katabi ng usok na ayaw naman nilang langhapin,” Go stressed.
That is why, he said he supports the President’s decision to ban the use and importation of e-cigarettes as the health of Filipinos should always be a top consideration in crafting policies.
“Ako, suportado ko po ito. Para sa akin, importante ang kalusugan ng bawat Pilipino. As chairman of the Committee on Health sa Senado, uunahin ko po ang kapakanan ng bawat Pilipino, ang kalusugan nila, lalong-lalo na po ang mga naninigarilyo at mga gumagamit ng e-cigarette,” the senator said.