Philippines: Lazada ignores DTI warnings as PMA urges Senate, agencies to protect public from fake tobacco, vapes online

26 April 2023

By Antonio Iñares, Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) has appealed to the Senate and all relevant government agencies to combat illicit cigarettes and vaping products on popular online marketplaces.

According to the the group, the government has to step in as e-retailer giant Lazada continues to defy warnings against the sale of illicit tobacco and vapes on its platform.

“We are bedazzled why these non-compliant, unregistered and possible non-tax paid tobacco and vapor products are allowed to be openly advertised, sold, and distributed in the local market, especially online,” the PMA said in a letter addressed to Senator Pia Cayetano.

It also sent the same letter to concerned agencies, including the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), among others.

The PMA urged them to “stand together and act against illicit tobacco and vapor products” on Lazada, Shopee, and Facebook Marketplace to protect the public from harm.

Through the Consumer Protection Group (CPG), the DTI met with high-level e-commerce industry representatives to address the spread of prohibited vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products advertised and sold online.

Though Lazada officials were present during the dialog, online listings of unregistered and unverified vape products persist on the platform.

Shopee reported removing more than 1 million prohibited vape listings from its website a day after the meeting with the DTI.

In their letter, the PMA also thanked Cayetano for her “unwavering commitment to protecting the welfare of the Filipino people, particularly with regards to the issue on tobacco and vapor products,” and her committee for exposing the “huge presence of illicit vapor products in the Philippine market, particularly those found in online platforms.”

The medical organization expressed alarm over illegal and unregistered tobacco and vape products dodging regulatory oversight, which endanger the public.

The letter referenced numerous postings on e-retailer platforms of tobacco and vape products that do not bear Philippine graphic health warnings and are sold below retail value.

“There is no way to verify if the products sold are registered and paid the correct taxes… since they do not bear the internal revenue stamps nor the required packaging or labeling requirements,” the PMA said.

“Raising the issue on illicit tobacco and vapor products and calling for the full implementation of the tax and regulatory laws on these products is crucial in protecting the interests of the government and the public,” it also said.

The PMA then noted that there’s “no reason why any importer or manufacturer will be able to evade paying taxes three years later” when higher excise taxes were levied on vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products since 2020.

Cayetano was also requested to intercede with the DILG and all local chief executives to campaign against illicit vapor products actively.

Taguig City is the headquarters of e-commerce giants Shopee, Facebook, and Lazada. The mayor of Taguig City is Cayetano’s sister-in-law, Laarni “Lani” Cayetano.

In a public hearing conducted in February by the Senate committee on sustainable development goals, innovation and future thinking, the DTI said it had issued show cause orders to regional and provincial offices of online selling platforms to boost its campaign against the sale of vape and e-cigarette products that are found in violation of Republic Act 11900 or the Vape Law.

Senator Pia Cayetano is the chair of the panel.



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