House ratification of vape bill to bring down smoking rate in PH

House ratification of vape bill to bring down smoking rate in PH

The House of Representatives on Wednesday ratified a landmark bill that aims to regulate vapes and heated tobacco products as part of the campaign to reduce smoking rate in the Philippines.

This followed the Senate ratification of the bi-cameral conference committee report on the vape bill on Tuesday, which brings the bill closer to becoming a law.  The enrolled bill will be sent to the Office of the President for his signature and approval.

Once signed into law, the bill will provide more than 16 million Filipino smokers who could not quit smoking cigarettes less harmful options such as vapes and heated tobacco products.

About 23.8 percent or nearly a quarter of Filipino adults was using tobacco, or 41.9 percent of men and 5.8 percent of women in the country, according to the 2015 Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

“It will help the 16 million Filipino smokers to access less harmful alternatives to cigarettes,” Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Ace Barbers said, referring to the bill approved by the Bicameral Conference Committee.

Scientific studies found e-cigarettes to be at least 95-percent less harmful than combusted tobacco.

“This is a game-changer,” said Nueva Ecija 1st District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, a long-time health advocate, referring to the vape bill.

Suansing, one of the authors of the Vaporized Nicotine Product (VNP) bill in the Lower House, said the vape bill is an important component of the campaign for smoke-free Philippines.

“Years from now when our country is rid of the smoking menace, we will look back at this Congress for starting the journey towards a smoke-free Philippines,” said Suansing.

House Deputy Speaker and SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, agreed saying the vape bill is one of the most effective anti-smoking laws passed.

“As seen in other countries, smoke-free alternatives significantly contributed to the drop in the number of smokers. This is our gift, our legacy to the Filipino people- a pathway to a Philippine society without cigarettes,” said Marcoleta.

Marcoleta described the vape bill as good legislation.  “I congratulate my colleagues in Congress for the passage and approval of House Bill No. 9007 and Senate Bill No. 2239. While not a smoker myself, I understand the importance of providing the adult smoking population with viable alternatives that are, as stated by the WHO (World Health Organization) representative in our hearings in the Lower House, less harmful when compared to cigarettes,” he said.

Consumer advocacy groups and prominent medical professionals described the vape bill as a legacy measure under the Duterte administration.  The bill has ample provisions that will discourage youth from using these products.

AKO Bicol Party List Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said the vape bill particularly protects minors. “The vape bill is serious in preventing minors from getting these products. It provides penalties that are even stronger than the penalties imposed for violations of the tobacco law. Erring parties can be fined or imprisoned,” said Garbin.

The bill not only bans youth access to these products but also prohibits advertisements targeting minors. 

The use of vaporized nicotine products will be banned in schools, playgrounds, colleges, and universities.

It seeks to restrict online sales and e-commerce platforms and prohibits the industry from contracting health professionals, celebrities, even social media influencers, to promote or encourage the use of these products.

Barbers said the bill also imposes mandatory product standards to protect adult users, keep them away from minors, help curb the smuggling of these products, and ensure that right taxes are paid to the government.

Under the bill, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will ensure that manufacturers and importers comply with mandatory standards and register their products with the department before introducing them in the market.

The DTI Secretary is authorized, upon due process, to order the recall, ban or seizure of unregistered products or to shut down non-compliant websites.  The DTI and the Food and Drug Administration will release mandatory product standards. Graphic health warnings will be imposed on the product packaging.

The bill is also expected to prevent illicit trade of these products and raise more excise taxes for the government’s Universal Health Care program.

“Once signed into law, the government will be able to properly regulate the sale and use of these products and at the same time, provide a new revenue stream for our public coffers. Equally important, the penal provisions contained therein shall ensure that only adult smokers can purchase these products and that minors will not be given access to the same,” said Marcoleta. (mtvn)

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