Senators eyeing passage of bill that will regulate manufacture, sale of e-cigarettes

By Hannah Torregoza 

Senators allied with the Duterte administration are now looking into the feasibility of regulating the sale of electronic cigarettes despite President Rodrigo Duterte's verbal order banning the use and importation of vaping products due to possible health risks.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN) Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he will file a bill regulating the sale of e-cigarettes, vapes and other electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems in the Philippines even though the country has reported its first electronic cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) case.

“We are already preparing a bill, which we will file soon, to regulate the packaging, advertisement, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes in the country, including Juul (a cartridge-based e-cigarette),” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian pointed out that the lack of stringent regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes make it enticing to children and adolescents, like the 16-year-old girl from Central Visayas who was considered to be the first case of EVALI in the country.

The senator noted that e-cigarettes in the country continue to be marketed as a safer product that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction, even if such claims were unproven.

But he said the first reported EVALI case in the Philippines was more than enough reason to be concerned over the welfare of many Filipinos, and implement a stricter regulation on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes in the country.

“Sabi nga nila prevention is better than cure. Ngayon nga na nagtala na ang Department of Health (DOH) ng isang kaso ng EVALI dito sa Pilipinas, nararapat lang na iregulate ang paggamit ng e-cigarettes at vapes dito sa Pilipinas para hindi na dumami pa ang kaso ng EVALI dito sa bansa (As they say prevention is better than cure. Now that the DOH has marked its first EVALI case in the Philippines, it is only proper to regulate the use of e-cigarettea and vapes here in order to prevent more EVALI cases here in the country,” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian said there was a need to set up a regulatory framework to check the safety claims of the e-cigarettes that are being sold in the market as manufacturers, distributors and sellers of these products are claiming that e-cigarettes are safer or healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes

"This is necessary to assure the public of the effects to their health of the chemicals or substances they ingest in their bodies,” Gatchalian said.

“Let’s not wait for another patient to be confined, or even worse die, as a result of EVALI. It’s time to regulate these smoking devices and save the lives of many Filipinos, particularly the youth,” he reiterated.

Apart from Gatchalian, Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has also expressed readiness to file a bill that will highly regulate the sale of e-cigarettes in the country, and at the same time help the government generate revenues from it.

Cayetano is also the sponsor of the Sin Tax Reform bill that seeks to impose higher excise tax on e-cigarettes and other so-called sin products.

“I just have to push through with my part of the job, which is to pass the taxation measure, whether or not an Executive Order from the President comes out,” Cayetano said.

“Whether it’s a total ban or a regulation (on e-cigarette products), I have to be ready. Because this taxation measure has to be of a more or less permanent nature,” she explained, reiterating her position that taxation is an effective tool to make these harmful products less accessible to young people.

According to Cayetano, when the Department of Health (DOH) earlier issued Administrative Order (AO) 2019-0007, which would have facilitated the registration and the mechanics for regulating e-cigarette products, some members of the industry questioned this order in court, which led to the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the AO.

But still, she said, there were some industry players who have expressed readiness to be regulated by the government.

"In fairness, there were some industry players who said they are happy to be regulated. Meanwhile, others went ahead and filed cases to prevent DOH and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) from regulating them. Now, we have products that are clearly harmful to the public; and they are unregulated,” Cayetano lamented.

Thus, she said, she understood where the President was coming from.

"So when the President said 'ban these products,' it’s because of the annoying reality that these people don’t want to be regulated, and there are courts that actually felt that the business interests of these vaping companies are more important than the welfare and health of the Filipinos,” she stressed.