Helen Flores – The Philippine Star
July 27, 2022 | 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — A measure approved by Congress seeking to regulate vaporized nicotine products or vape has lapsed into law without the signature of President Marcos, Malacañang confirmed yesterday.
In a letter to the Senate and the House of Representatives, Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez said the proposed bill “regulating the importation, sale, packaging, distribution, use and communication of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products and novel tobacco products” lapsed into law on July 25.
When asked to confirm the development, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles replied: “Yes.”
Congress ratified the vape bill in January. According to the Official Gazette, an approved bill becomes a law if the President does not sign it within 30 days from the date of receipt.
Under the measure, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is tasked to consult with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the setting of technical standards for the safety, consistency and quality of vape products.
The bill also mandates the Department of Health to prescribe guidelines for the implementation of smoking and vaping restriction awareness campaigns.
The measure sets the allowable age for the purchase, sale and use of such products at 18 years old and above.
Under the vape bill, the term “novel tobacco products” refers to “all non-combusted substances in solid or liquid form, and innovations, either made partly of tobacco leaf as raw material or containing nicotine from tobacco intended to be used as a substitute for cigarettes or other combusted tobacco products.”
Lawmakers welcomed the development, saying it would provide more funds for vital projects, particularly on social services.
“Logically, a wider range of available vape flavors should also mean higher consumption volumes and therefore higher tax revenues from these products,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, former chairman of the House ways and means committee, said.
He admitted, though, that he had some misgiving about the bill. “I had certain reservations with the bill, primarily in that it left regulation to the Department of Trade, when health concerns should be primarily with the Food and Drug Administration,” he said.
“The committee on ways and means will watch out for the implementation of the sections which effectively amended the Tax Code, particularly on vape flavors,” he said. “So, we will use our oversight powers to see whether that happens.”
Former House Deputy Speaker Wes Gatchalian (Valenzuela), a co-sponsor of the measure, said the vape measure would “provide much-need economic boost for small businesses and the government.”
“The bill enacts crucial regulations that will prioritize legitimate businesses, safeguard consumers and potentially generate billions in revenue for the government,” Gatchalian, now mayor of Valenzuela City, said.
“The vape law likewise comes at a crucial time when industries and businesses are now beginning to bounce back from the impact of lockdowns. Reasonable regulations of these products strengthens the government’s twin goals of boosting revenue and fortifying public health policy,” he added.
He also estimated that the government has raked in about P15.3 billion in vape taxes since 2019.
“From 2019, the excise taxes collected by the government on these products have increased from P12.2 billion to P15.3 billion, representing a growth of around 25 percent,” Gatchalian disclosed.
“The taxes generated by these products can help the country as we strive to recover from the devastating economic effects of the pandemic,” Gatchalian pointed out.
He said industries badly affected by the pandemic would greatly benefit from the measure’s lapsing into law, as vaporized nicotine and heated tobacco products industry has created 879 new enterprises and employed at least 3,000 people.
“By providing a comprehensive framework for these novel tobacco products, we can not only rid the country of combustible cigarettes. We can, at the same time, ensure that the livelihood of Filipinos in these industries are secured,” he said.
But for Sen. Pia Cayetano, Marcos’ letting the vape bill to lapse into law runs counter to his declaration in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) that science will guide his policies and that health is his priority.
Cayetano, who had called on Marcos to veto the bill, said she felt “a glimmer of hope” while listening to the SONA only to be disappointed upon learning that he let the vape bill lapse into law.
“My heart is broken but my spirit is not,” Cayetano said in statement. “I thought this means that the vape bill would be vetoed, because the science clearly tells us just how harmful these products are, while medical experts have repeatedly said how the vape bill masquerades as a health measure, as it really pushes for de-regulation, not regulation, and harm introduction, not harm reduction,” she said.
“To say that I am disappointed in the 18th Congress that passed the bill, and with the President for not vetoing it, will not do justice to the millions of lives that will be put in harm’s way because of the vape law,” she added.
The senator said she would continue fighting for the health and well-being of Filipinos, even against strong lobbies of industries and policymakers. – Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo