(UPDATE) A CONTROVERSIAL bill seeking the regulation of vaporized nicotine (vape) and non-nicotine products as well as novel tobacco products has lapsed into law, Malacañang confirmed on Tuesday, July 26.
Press Secretary Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles said President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. allowed the proposed Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, also known as the “Vape Regulation Bill,” to lapse on July 25 without his signature on it.
The President’s decision dismayed the Department of Health (DoH) as well as sectoral groups opposed to the proposal.
The DoH’s officer in charge, Maria Rosario Vergeire, said she was saddened by the turn of events.
She also said the DoH will continue its anti-smoking and anti-vaping programs despite the passage of the measure.
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“Kami ay tuluy-tuloy pa rin para iparating sa kababayan ang masamang dulot ng vape at ng tobacco products, so titignan natin kung ano ang pwede nating gawin para maisulong natin ang batas na ito (We will continue to inform the public about the dangers of vape and tobacco products, so we will look at what we will do to push for these laws),” Vergeire added.
Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, in a letter, informed the Senate and the House of Representatives about the President’s decision.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez were furnished with a copy of the law.
The vape bill was ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives on Jan. 26, 2022, or during the administration of then-president Rodrigo Duterte.
Legislative measures lapse into law if the president does not take action on them after 30 days of receipt of the proposals.
The DoH and other health experts have been calling for the veto of the bill because of its provisions that contradict public health goals and international standards.
Another concern for the experts is the transfer of regulatory functions on such products from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The vape bill regulates the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution and use, and communication of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products as well as novel tobacco products.
Under the new law, the DTI is tasked to consult with the FDA in setting technical standards for the safety, consistency and quality of vape products.
It is also given authority to regulate the vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products and their devices and novel tobacco products made from tobacco leaves or have nicotine in tobacco.
The bill mandates the DoH to prescribe guidelines on the implementation of smoking and vaping restriction awareness campaigns.
It also provides protection to minors from accessing vape products by setting the minimum allowable age for the purchase, sale and use of such products at 18 years old.
The President’s decision to let the vape bill lapse into law was denounced by an opponent of the measure, saying it was a “triumph of moneyed tobacco industry.”
The Child Rights Network (CRN) expressed indignation at Marcos and former presidents, along with the tobacco industry that had lobbied for it, for not acting to stop the law’s passage, despite warnings from health experts and even departments of the government.
“Child rights advocates all over the Philippines today call out the tobacco industry and its allies for succeeding in its insidious plan to have the dangerous Vape Bill lapse into law, without the benefit of executive review,” CRN convenor Romeo Dongeto said also on Tuesday.
Despite being ratified on Jan. 31, 2022, Congress only transmitted the consolidated bill to Malacañang on June 24, 2022, mere days before Duterte ended his term.
At the time, the CRN sounded the alarm and called on Duterte to veto the bill, to no avail.
“Those behind this move used the presidential transition as a tool to their advantage. By June 24, we had already read the tobacco lobby’s insidious tactics — transmit the bill at the 11th hour so that the outgoing president won’t be able to act on it, and the incoming president — busy with the turnover — will also not be able to stop its passage. Through devious tactics and what we assume as a moneyed move, the dangerous bill has lapsed into law, opening the floodgates that will surely endanger the health of generations of Filipino children,” Dongeto noted.
The CRN described the still unnumbered Republic Act (RA) a “toxic legislation masquerading as a trade regulation law,” as it essentially relaxes regulations on the sale, distribution, use and promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes, and vaporized nicotine products (VNPs), giving the tobacco industry a free pass to reach even children.
“Despite the tobacco industry’s reasoning that the vape law will strengthen regulations to discourage minors from using cigarette alternatives, the new law essentially lowered the minimum age of access to e-cigarettes from age 21 to 18, setting aside the proposal of several health experts to maintain 21 years old, the existing age restriction based on RA 11467,” Dongeto said.
The restrictions on flavor descriptors for ENDS and VNPs set in the new law, according to the CRN, were only inserted to blur the fact that the legislation gives a free pass to producers to use addictive flavors that attract use among the younger generation, and even allows the online sale of e-cigarettes.
“We cannot lose hope. We urge the 19th Congress to get to work and scrap this newly passed law. Listen to the voice of reason. Remember that no less than the Department of Health and the Department of Education joined advocates in exposing the dangers of this law. We call on our legislators and our President to act in haste, while there is still time, and ensure that this toxic law will not be able to bare its fangs and harm generations of Filipino children and youth,” Dongeto said.
The Sin Tax Coalition, a group of health advocates and civil society organizations that are strongly critical of the bill, also on Tuesday said the passage of the law meant that the tobacco industry’s interests have prevailed over public health and fake news won over science.
“We are dismayed that a few doctors and consumer groups have fallen prey to the tobacco industry’s misinformation,” the group added.
It said the vape bill will not end the smoking epidemic or will save the lives of millions of smokers, and instead, will increase vape usage among the youth and increase the use of alcohol and other addictive substances.
“It will not give smokers the chance to quit traditional cigarettes and shift to e-cigarette and vape products, as these alternative products have long been available,” the group added.
Public interest law group ImagineLaw described the passage of the measure as a “regrettable development” in the face of President Marcos’ commitment to “build back better.”
“The vape bill is anti-health and anti-youth…. It dismantles existing measures that protect our health and protect our youth from lifelong addiction,” ImagineLaw Executive Director Sophia San Luis said also on Tuesday.
San Luis added that the law is a deregulation measure that will lead to a vaping epidemic among young people and is against the overwhelming medical advice of medical associations and health experts.
She urged Marcos to ensure that the bill will be implemented with health measures in mind, not the commercial interests of those who pushed for its passage.
Both ImagineLaw and Sin Tax Coalition said they will work together to press for strict implementation of the regulatory measures on the sale and age restrictions of the vape bill and other tobacco policies.
WITH A REPORT FROM RED MENDOZA