Time to ban Vaping

Last month, the Bureau of Customs seized P4.6 billion worth of smuggled electronic cigarettes or vapes during a two-day crackdown on warehouses in Malabon and Parañaque, Metro Manila. In December, about P1.43 billion worth of e-cigarettes or vapes were also confiscated in a warehouse in Canumay West, Valenzuela City. In comparison, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the supposed regulator of the Vape law, seized a measly 18,000 non-compliant vape products valued at P5.5 million in 2023.

BIR commissioner Romeo Lumagui Jr. says for vape smuggling alone, government loses P1.4 billion yearly. Since 2019, revenues from vape excise taxes totalled P15.3 billion and much of it went to government’s universal healthcare programs.

But is the existing Vape law worth it, given its deleterious effects on our youth?

The 2019 Global Youth Tobacco survey results of showed that 14.1 percent of Filipino students aged between 13 to 15 are currently using electronic cigarettes. The Department of Education (DepEd), for its part, recently reported that 6.7% of Grades 7-9 students had tried and are using e-cigarettes.  Our very own Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) also found that 11% of students between 10 years and 15 years old had already tried vapes.

In 2019, the Department of Health (DOH) reported its first case of electronic cigarette or vaping associated lung injury (EVAL) involving a 16-year-old female from Central Visayas. Another celebrated incident in 2018 of a 17-year-old male in Quezon city, whose vape, or electronic cigarette exploded on his mouth in 2018. This teenager survived but another man from Fort Worth, Texas did not. Vape contains liquid nicotine, propylene glycol, carbonyls and carbon monoxide which causes cancer and triggers explosions.

But despite these, Republic Act 1190 or the Vape law lapsed into a law (wonder of wonders) unacted by President Ferdinand Marcos in 2022. And instead of the Department of Health or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulating it, the Department of Trade of Industry was principal implementor because, they argue then that vaping is more of a trade issue and not a health issue. And this big mistake brings our nation now, besieged by worrisome health issues to our youth and huge government revenue losses from brazen smuggling of vape products.

A recent special report on the “Vapedemic” (vape epidemic) revealed that legitimate e-cigs and vapes are openly sold in convenience stores and vape shops while illegal vapes are most likely sold in some seedy alleys, dark street corners or from a dubious address.

The Child Rights Network (CRN) supports calls to ban the sale of disposable vapes in the country, stressing that easy access to these products has worsened underage smoking.

 “However, the government shouldn’t stop there.  If the government truly cares about improving vape regulation, it must seriously bring back the child protection safeguards “in the said law”, it said.

For 2023 revenues, tobacco excise tax fell by 16% to P134.87 billion from P160.55 billion in 2022. It was also 20.6% below the target of P169.86 billion. Such excise tax take is a far cry from the record high P176 billion posted in 2021. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) almost instantaneously is blaming the drop in excise tobacco revenues to the growing vape use, lessened cigarette consumption and also to illicit trade.

Decreased excise tax collections from tobacco impacts every Filipino because 40 percent goes to Philhealth, and 10 percent for DOH health facilities. The remaining 50 percent is for tobacco-producing provinces to support tobacco farmers and the national budget.

Finance Secretary Ralph Recto recently floated the possibility of banning the sale of disposable vapes in the Philippines, which he said are mostly unregistered products. “I think we should ban disposable vape products. “Most if not all disposable vape products are unregistered with DTI and do not pay excise taxes,” Recto said .Senators Pia Cayetano,  Bong Go, and JV  Ejercito supported Recto’s statement.

The DOH said all vapes should be banned due to their harmful effects on health and the environment. “Disposable vapes and vapor products pose significant health risks including e-cigarette or vapor product associated lung injury (EVALI), nicotine addiction, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, among others,” it said.

They are made for one-time use, are non-rechargeable,  sold pre-filled with e-liquid plastic and batteries which are not easily recyclable or biodegradable. “These items result in electronic waste (e-waste) that contains harmful chemicals that can seep into soil and water sources, posing risks to both the environment and public health,” the DOH said.

Overall, the government is telling that they are considering the banning of disposable vapes and possibly repealing or amending the Vape law.  They now claim that three issues, health risks, tax…

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