Philippines: Pia urges Duterte to veto vape bill as doctor slams pro-vape ‘lobbying’

23 June 2022

By: Hana Bordey, GMA News

Senator Pia Cayetano and several physicians on Thursday urged outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act, popularly known as the vape bill.

The bill provides regulations on the importation, manufacture, sale, packaging, distribution, use, and communication of vape products and novel tobacco products.

It will also transfer the regulatory powers over the products from the Food and Drug Administraion (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Inudstry (DTI).

Citing a Supreme Court decision, Cayetano argued that the FDA was given the jurisdiction to regulate cigarettes, and should regulate vaping a well.

“The decision is clear that the FDA must regulate all products that affect health,” Cayetano said in a press conference.

According to the information cited by the senator, the vape bill is currently “sitting on” the table of the secretary-general of the House of Representatives. It makes it simpler if the President vetoes the bill but from what I know the bill has not yet reached Malacañang. It is with the House of Representatives,” she said.

GMA News Online has sought the comment of House Secretary-General Mark Mendoza, but he has yet to respond as of posting time.

“Well, for me simple lang e. January pa yan pumasa ‘di ba?  [For me it’s simple. The bill was passed in January, wasn’t it?] So, give it to the President of the same Congress where it was passed, and if it’s sitting in some table, I don’t know why that’s the case,” Cayetano said.

“I would assume naman na this administration would like to start this on a morally high ground di ba? So allow the current president to do what he needs to do with it and, of course, ang panalangin namin is ma-veto [our hope is that it is vetoed],” she added.

Both the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DepEd) have urged Duterte to veto the vape bill, saying it undermines existing national laws, policies, and standards on regulation, distribution, and use of vapor products and heated tobacco products.

‘Everything retrogressing’

Speaking before reporters, Philippine Pediatric Society and Tobacco Control Advocacy Group chairperson Dr. Rizalina Raquel Gonzales slammed the apparent “lobbying” for the vape bill in the Congress at the height of the pandemic.

“Sa gitna ng pandemya, may bagong bill na nilalabas e ang dapat iniisip natin health promotion. Kung babasahin mo at matino ang utak mo at naiintindihan mo ang nangyayari sa tobacco control lahat nag-retrogress,” she said.

(In the middle of the pandemic, they’re putting out new bills when we should be thinking of health promotion. If you read it, and if you are of sound mind and you understand what is happening with tobacco control, you can see everything is retrogressing.)

“In-allow ang flavor, ibinaba ang age, ibinigay ang regulation sa DTI. ‘Yun ba ay health promotion? So merong nag-support dito, may nag-lobby dito e kaming mga doktor busy na busy sa pandemya. Hindi kami makalabas,” she added.

(They allowed flavors, they lowered the age limit, they gave the regulations to the Department of Trade and Industry. Is that health promotion? So someone supported this, lobbied for this, while we doctors are busy with the pandemic.)

“Personally, ang feeling ko naisahan kami habang may ginagawa kami. May gumagapang paloob para ahasin itong dapat na law na naka-implement na ngayon,” she went on.

(Personally, I feel someone got one over us while we were busy. Someone crept in to stop this law that should be implemented by now.)

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance said this bill’s intention is going “backward” and the proposed law is a “fake regulatory bill.”

FDA for health aspect

If both the FDA and the Department of Trade and Industry are tasked regulate the vape products, Cayetano said, she will have no problem with it as long as the FDA regulates the health-related aspect.

“From a legal perspective…wala namang problemang mag-regulate ang DTI [there is no problem if the DTI regulates] in the area that they are an expert on. Ire-regulate nila sa trade, e di sige, regulate nila sa trade [If they regulate the trade aspect, fine], but when it comes to the health aspect, there is no doubt, the SC if very clear, the health aspect should be governed by the FDA. But all government agencies must work together,” Cayetano said.

Dr. Maricar Impin, Executive Director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance-Philippines (FCAP) agreed with the Cayetano, saying they have no objections to DTI regulation on vape products when it comes to trade issues but that as far as health is concerned, she said that that aspect of vaping should fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

“I was actually thinking, we were already talking among ourselves—although I do not want to see this happen—na in the event that this bill passes as a law, we will definitely question the constitutionality and DTI acting as the regulatory body on a health product,” Limpin said.

“Therefore, iku-question namin yan and we are going to do that as soon as makita namin na walang nangyari sa vape bill na ito. Pero kung in the end, kung lumagpas ang June 30 at hindi nga ito umabot sa Presidente then definitely this will not become a law so we will not actually do anything about it,” she added.

(Therefore, we will question it and we are going to do that as soon as we see that nothing has happened about this vape bill. But in the end, if this has not reached the President by June 30 then definitely this will not become a law so we will not actually do anything about it.)

Also present at the press conference were former FDA director general Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, Smoking Cessation Task Force chairperson Dr. Glynna Cabrera Ong, and Health Justice Philippines legal consultant Benedict Nisperos.

Several medical organizations had urged Duterte to veto the proposed measure while industry and interest groups expressed support for it.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also advised the public that they should not be misled by a bill regulating vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products, saying this was a “Trojan horse” in the policy to protect health.

In the bill, the DOH would be tasked to prescribe guidelines on the implementation of smoking and vaping restriction awareness campaigns, while the DTI would consult with the FDA in setting technical standards for the safety, consistency, and quality of the vape products.

Manufacturers, distributors, importers, and sellers will be given an 18-month transitory period from the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations to comply with the requirements of this measure.

This would include the registration of the vape products with the DTI.