A bill that regulates the manufacture, use, sale, distribution and promotion of vaping and heated tobacco products passed its third reading in the House of Representatives and is expected to be approved by the Senate, barring any undue outside influence, according to a regional consumer advocacy group.
Known as House Bill 9007, the proposed ‘Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery Systems Regulation Act’ is a massive legislative achievement for tobacco harm reduction advocates in the Philippines, said Nancy Loucas, executive coordinator of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates.
“Nearly 90,000 Filipinos die of smoking-related diseases every year. This legislation will not only save thousands of lives, but the Philippines is now leading the way in the Asia-Pacific region with reasonable, risk proportionate regulation which will be very effective in curbing smoking rates,” said Loucas.
With international evidence putting vaping at 95-percent less harmful than smoking, non-combustible electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems have been available in the Philippines for more than a decade. However, in 2019 the government tried to ban the use of e-cigarettes, HTPs and other smoke-free alternatives.
CAPHRA said that once this proposed bill becomes law, it will also remove any remaining vestiges of influence from foreigners. This includes raising the age to purchase to 25, and a ban on flavors other than menthol and tobacco that was due to come into effect in May 2022.
A proposed government ban sparked efforts by the likes of Vapers PH and Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association, with support from CAPHRA, to meet with House and Senate representatives on the benefits of smoke-free alternatives.
They reinforced to legislators that vaping proved be the most effective smoking cessation tool around the world, with the Philippines in desperate need of best practice policies to reduce the numbers smoking.
Consumer advocates in the Philippines promoted the regulation of e-cigarettes as a consumer product. They argued that the age of majority in the Philippines is 18—one can purchase tobacco, alcohol and get married at 18—so the current age to purchase of 21 was nonsensical. Supporting the minimum age for the purchase, sale and use of such products to 18 would bring vape in line with other ‘adult’ activities and privileges.
At the same time, they argued adult smokers keen to quit tobacco need reasonable access to safer alternatives and restricted advertising should be permitted. Product safety standards were also critically important to the consumer advocates.
Clarisse Virgino, the Philippine representative of CAPHRA, said she was delighted the country’s legislators had listened, saying the prospect of more Filipinos successfully quitting smoking is of historic significance given the country’s stubbornly high smoking rates for decades.
“The proposed act will legitimize the market of vaporized nicotine products which means that consumers will have better protection. We hope that the Senate will also support this bill to provide millions of Filipino smokers with less harmful alternatives to combustible cigarettes,” said Virgino.
Peter Paul Dator, president of Vapers PH and CAPHRA member, said they were pleased the country’s legislators are acting. He said that for too long, the World Health Organization’s ‘cold turkey’ approach to smoking cessation cost thousands of lives in low-income countries with high smoking rates.
He said that past official statistics revealed nearly a quarter of all Filipino adults smoked. This is matched by the Philippines very low 4-percent smoking cessation rate, even though over three-quarters of smokers wanted or planned to quit smoking tobacco. Very few, however, were able to do so successfully,” he said.
“It’s exciting that the country is now legitimizing the most effective method we have to quit smoking. For years, we’ve tried strategies such as going ‘cold turkey’ counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy and our dismal national smoking rate speaks for itself,” Dator said.
The Vapers PH president said the Senate could be confident with the quality of work and level of consumer and industry consultation that informed the legislation which he described as enabling a realistic and workable regulatory framework.
“This will undoubtedly reduce serious sickness and premature death among the 16 million cigarette smokers in the Philippines by helping them to switch to a less harmful, smoke-free alternative. The House of Representatives has done very well, and I know the Senate is equally keen to pass evidence-based legislation that helps reduce our appallingly high smoking rates,” said Dator.
Consumer groups in the Asia-Pacific region launched a petition that urges the World Health Organization to respect consumer rights ahead of the next biennial meeting of the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control in November.