Medical community urges Senate to end anti-health vape bill

More than 60 medical organizations and tobacco control advocacy groups gather today to call on the Senate of the Philippines to junk Senate Bill No. 2239, an Act Regulating the Importation, Manufacture, Sale, Packaging, Distribution, Use, And Communication of Vapor Products and Heated Tobacco Products, commonly known as the Vape Bill.

The said bill, which claims to regulate the sale, packaging, advertisement, and promotion of electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS/ENNDS) and heated tobacco products (HTPs), is described as “anti-health and regressive” by leading medical organizations, including the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Pediatric Society, Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, Philippine College of Surgeons, Philippine Nurses Association, Philippine Dental Association, and other health professional organizations and health advocacy groups.

In their position statement, the coalition questions the apparent haste in passing House Bill No. 9007 (“Regulating the Manufacture, Use, Sale, Packaging, Distribution, Advertisement and Promotion of Electronic Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems, Heated Tobacco Products, And Novel Tobacco Products”) and Senate Bill No. 2239amidst more pressing bills that need higher prioritization in this ongoing pandemic.

The bill also sets aside previous agreements in both the Lower House and the Senate by undoing their own key legislations, REPUBLIC ACT Nos. 11346 and 11467, and further delaying the implementation of the President’s EXECUTIVE ORDER No. 106, which altogether already provide for a sound and reasonable regulatory framework on vapor/nicotine and heated tobacco products, including other novel tobacco products.

“As public health advocates, while we agree that the state must implement appropriate regulation that will address the need to protect the public’s right to health, we are again perplexed as to the unprecedented speed by which Congress and the Senate have charted by entirely disregarding Republic Acts 11346 and 11467, and EO 106, that already provided for a timely policy to regulate these alternative products, as they are by no means safe or efficacious in preventing further addiction to smoking and nicotine products,” the position statement reads.

The group calls both HB 9007 and SB 2239 as regressive policies, further increasing the opportunity for the tobacco and vaping industry to widen their market, creating more addiction among consumers, and preying on the younger generation.

Provisions in the bills that are in question are as follows:

   ·    Reversal of minimum age of access and use from 21 to 18 years of age

Existing RA 11467 already states that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shall determine and regulate the use and manufacture of vapor and heated tobacco products, including banning of sale below twenty-one years old.

   ·    Ease in restriction and limitation of available flavors

While the medical community widely supports the restriction or limitation of available flavors in order to reduce attractiveness in non-targeted users, the current bill seems to allow otherwise. These flavors attract the youth and make these products more palatable.

    ·   Absence of the ban on sale & distribution to non-smokers

RA 11467 prohibits manufacturers, distributors, and sellers from selling and distributing these products to non-smokers. However, the current bill does not include this provision, setting aside the existing law, making it clearly a pro-industry bill.

   ·    Ease in health warnings restriction

The House bill requires only a single text warning, effectively reversing the graphic health warnings (GHW) required under RA 11346. While the Senate bill has a provision to bear graphic health warnings, it requires the single text warning to occupy the GHW space, weakening its effectiveness. All of these defeat the purpose of periodically determining specific messages based on evolving medical and scientific studies and likewise violate RA 11346.

   ·    Allows vaping in outdoor spaces within the premises of schools, hospitals, etc.

In the bill, the use of vapor and heated tobacco products is banned only in indoor/enclosed areas of schools, hospitals, facilities intended particularly for minors, and government facilities, hence giving multiple opportunities for sensitive sectors to be exposed to harm and advertising these devices by allowing full view of the products to youths, those seeking medical care, and the general public.

    ·    Demotion of FDA as lead agency        

Unlike in Sec. 144 of RA 11467 and Section 2 of EO 106 where FDA is rightfully the lead regulator of all products affecting health, the current bill transfers the regulatory mandate to the Department of Trade and Industry.

With more than 60 medical associations, tobacco control advocacy groups, and other health reform organizations, the medical community takes a firm stand against Senate Bill No. 2239, that favors the tobacco/e-cigarette industry rather than public health, specifically the younger population, who is the most vulnerable to these harmful products.

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