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E-cigarette regulation tackled on Senate floor

/ 12:23 AM November 27, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Is the Philippines getting better in regulating e-cigarettes?

Sen. Joel Villanueva posed this question on Tuesday during the period of interpellation for Senate Bill No. 1074 which seeks to raise taxes on liquor, e-cigarettes, and vapor products.

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“Sadly, my answer to that question is no, we are not getting better,” Sen. Pia Cayetano, who sponsors the bill, said.

“Right now as we speak, there is no regulatory agency looking over this. Why? Because members of the industry filed a TRO [temporary restraining order] against FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and DOH [Department of Health] to regulate,” she added.

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Cayetano then lamented: “The point is, how can you not regulate a product that is not healthy? That is the job of the FDA and the DOH, and that is the situation that we are in right now.”

Existing inter-agency

Villanueva then pointed out the existence of the Inter-agency Committee-Tobacco (IAC-T), which regulates traditional and regular cigarette products.

“Since Package 2 essentially treats e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes as equal as manifested in its intent to impose equal level of excise tax, can’t the same inter-agency cover the regulation of e-cigarette and just include the [FDA] in that inter-agency committee?” Villanueva asked.

Under the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, or Republic Act No. 9211, the committee is chaired by the secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with the secretary of Health as the vice chairperson.

The law also states that among its members is a “representative from the tobacco industry to be nominated by the legitimate and recognized associations of the industry.”

“You cannot have an agency, that includes the tobacco industry, regulate the consumption of one of the most hazardous products in the world,” Cayetano said.

“We have asked them for reports of their meetings, they have not been able to give us reports for years. I have asked them what interventions they have made to reduce the consumption of Filipinos of cigarettes: Wala po [None],” the senator disclosed.

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“And now, we have a new industry — the e-cigarette industry — who are comparing themselves with the cigarette industry and saying: ‘Why is our worse counterpart not being regulated by the FDA? We are a better version of cigarettes, we should not be regulated either,’” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that since the DOH secretary serves as the vice chairperson of the committee, the FDA is “technically” represented.

However, Cayetano argued that, since the DTI chief is the one sitting as its chair, it would lead in regulation measures — not the DOH.

Cayetano said that two TROs had been issued against the FDA covering cigarette and e-cigarette products.

The bill’s sponsor said that she would file two bills — one for the regulation of e-cigarettes and another one amending RA 9211.

“These two products — both cigarettes and e-cigarettes — will finally be buried under the agency where they belong,” Cayetano said.

“I cannot fathom how we can put it under any other agency that has no training and no expertise when it comes to health,” she added.

Flavored e-cigarettes

The issue of flavored e-cigarettes was also tacked during the interpellation, particularly on the possibilities of the products being attractive for the youth.

“There is a strong recommendation to ban flavors if at all stick to tobacco and menthol…  So that you address the concern of cigarette smokers who want to shift or have shifted [because] they don’t like the taste of tobacco,” Cayetano said.

“But you don’t want it to be any more exciting than that because you open this Pandora’s box of an exciting world for these young people,” she added.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday said senators had agreed to regulate and tax vaping and e-cigarette products following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order banning vaping in public spaces.

/atm

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