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Regulating e-cigarettes

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J. Albert Gamboa

J. Albert Gamboa

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 106 last week expanding the nationwide ban on cigarette smoking in enclosed public places and conveyances to include electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as vapes or e-cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.

But Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the manufacture, sale, and importation of e-cigarettes will still be allowed subject to registration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He explained that Republic Act No. 11467, which took effect on Jan. 27, imposed higher taxes on alcohol, vaping, and heated tobacco products (HTPs), which meant that their importation is allowed and not banned per se.

The DOF chief disclosed that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) is going to issue a memorandum order allowing the importation of these smoke-free products so that the BOC can start collecting taxes pursuant to RA 111467.

Under EO 106, manufacturers and sellers of all devices forming the components of ENDS and HTPs should secure their license to operate from the FDA, and will also be required to follow Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) standards. Both the FDA and the DTI will coordinate with the BOC to regulate the importation and entry of such products and components.

In the light of these recent developments, vapers and former smokers along with tobacco harm reduction advocates gathered in Makati City on Feb. 28 to launch the Asia-wide movement to support safer alternative nicotine products.

Spearheaded by the Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA), the regional movement’s education and information campaign is tagged as #SmokeFree4Life. It aims to curb the smoking epidemic and inform smokers about the existence of ENDS, HTPs, and a smokeless tobacco product from Sweden called snus.

CAPHRA’s Philippine representative Clarisse Virgino declared: “We stand up for the well-being of more than a billion cigarette smokers globally who are now presented with better and more innovative products.” Collectively, these advocates called on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH) to respect the rights of smokers who would want to switch to smoke-free alternatives.

Virgino expressed hope that the campaign will gather the needed support ahead of the 9th Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the Netherlands this coming November. The Philippines is among the 181 countries that are FCTC signatories.

Peter Paul Dator, president of Vapers PH, lamented that the WHO “continues to insist on the quit-or-die approach which we all know is ineffective against smoking.” According to him, WHO’s own data showed there are still 1.1 billion smokers worldwide – resulting in eight million deaths due to smoking-related diseases on an annual basis.

He cited data from the DOH and the Philippine Statistics Authority showing there are 15.9 million smokers in the country representing 14.7% of the national population. More than 75% of these smokers are interested in quitting tobacco smoking, yet the WHO allegedly deprives them of the options to make the switch.

CAPHRA Executive Director Nancy Loucas believes the FCTC’s approach to vaping is not only outdated, but creates an even more insidious public health problem by protecting the cigarette trade through excessive regulation of smoke-free alternatives.

In the absence of a global vaping epidemic, harm reduction advocates are therefore asking the WHO authorities: “If we allow digital technologies to disrupt industries, why can’t we allow electronic innovation to improve public health?”

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