A law that critics say will lead to “a vaping epidemic among young people” has lapsed into law Monday, after neither President Rodrigo Duterte nor President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. acted on it before the July 25 deadline.
The proposed Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act was passed by the House and the Senate on Jan. 26, but was transmitted to the Palace only on June 24, during the last days of the Duterte administration.
The bill lapsed into law without the President’s signature 30 days later, Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez said in a letter sent to Congress.
The law lowers the age of access to e-cigarettes and vaping products from the current 21 years old to 18 years old. It will also allow online sales and transfers the regulatory powers over vaping from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Rodriguez furnished Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez with a copy of the law, but the Palace has yet to release it to the public.
Under the new law, the Department of Trade and Industry is tasked to consult with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in setting technical standards for the safety, consistency, and quality of vape products.
The DTI is also given authority to regulate the vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products and their devices and novel tobacco products made from tobacco leaves or have nicotine in tobacco.
The law also mandates the Department of Health (DOH) to prescribe guidelines on the implementation of smoking and vaping restriction awareness campaigns.
It sets the minimum allowable age for the purchase, sale, and use of such products to 18 years old.
The bill became a law despite appeals from health experts, the DOH and the FDA for Marcos to veto it because its provisions contradict public health goals and international standards.
Senator Pia Cayetano on Tuesday lamented the bill’s lapsing into law.
In her privilege speech in the Senate, Cayetano questioned why Congress sat on the bill that was ratified by both Houses of Congress on Jan. 26 without immediately transmitting it to the Office of the President.
Cayetano asked why it took five months to send the bill to the Palace, when the Foundling Recognition and Protection Act was sent in just two months, and the Anti-Trafficking Act in three months.
She reiterated her strong objections to the vape bill, noting how medical experts said the bill was masquerading as a health measure, but really pushes de-regulation, not regulation.
She said she was disappointed in the 18th Congress for passing the bill, and with the President for not vetoing it.
“My heart is broken but my spirit is not. I will never stop fighting for the health and well-being of the Filipinos, even against strong lobbies of industries and policymakers who choose to support their interests over the people,” she said.
Meanwhile public interest law group ImagineLaw deplored the lapse into law of the vape bill as a “betrayal of public health.”
It also branded a “regrettable development in the face of the President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s commitment to build back better.”
ImagineLaw Executive Director Sophia San Luis considered the vape bill anti-health and anti-youth. She said it dismantled the existing measures that protect public health and protect the youth from lifelong addiction.
“It is a deregulation measure that will lead to a vaping epidemic among young people,” said San Luis.
The measure, she said, is against the overwhelming medical advice of medical associations and health experts.
The law group also expressed their hope that the executive inaction that led to the Vape Bill lapsing into law does not mean that the President will neglect tobacco control in the country.
“During a global pandemic that attacks the lungs, building back better means protecting our health through better public health policies. We hope that the President will ensure that the vape bill will be implemented with our health in mind, not the commercial interests of those that pushed for its passage,” San Luis said.
ImagineLaw said that it will continue working with other health advocates and the government to push for the strict implementation of the regulatory measures on sales and age restrictions of the vape law and other tobacco control policies.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said as with vetoes, allowing a bill to lapse into law was the prerogative of the President.
Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said he had certain reservations with the bill, “primarily in that it left regulation to the DTI, when health concerns should be primarily with the FDA.”
“I also have reservations with the harm reduction claims for vape. That said, both chambers of Congress decided it, and the process must be respected,” Salceda said.
He said his committee will watch the implementation of the sections that effectively amended the Tax Code, particularly on vape flavors.
“Logically, a wider range of available vape flavors should also mean higher consumption volumes and therefore higher tax revenues from these products. So, we will use our oversight powers to see whether that happens,” Salceda said.
One of the principal authors of the bill when he was deputy speaker of the House, Valenzuela City Mayor Wes Gatchalian said the law would provide a much-needed economic boost for small businesses and the government.
Gatchalian, who served as deputy speaker of the 18th Congress and co-sponsor of the measure in the House of Representatives, said the bill enacts crucial regulations that will prioritize legitimate businesses, safeguard consumers and potentially generate billions in revenue for the government.
“The vape law likewise comes at a crucial time when industries and businesses are now beginning to bounce back from the impact of lockdowns,” Gatchalian said. “Reasonable regulations of these products strengthen the government’s twin goals of boosting revenue and fortifying public health policy.”
The higher taxes on vape products is expected to largely contribute to fill the funding gap for the Universal Health Care (UHC) program of the government.
The increased excise tax on vape products will likewise enable the DOH to push through with its plans to upgrade state medical facilities and establish more hospitals in remote areas, hire and train more doctors and nurses, and scale up non-communicable disease prevention services, he said.
Gatchalian said that when Congress deliberated the vape bill, they ensured the protection of minors while adult smokers were provided access to less harmful alternatives.
He cited the provision prohibiting the sale, promotion, advertising and product demonstration to minors and that vape products cannot be sold within 100 meters in places frequented by minors such as schools or playgrounds.
“This law ensures that all these novel tobacco products will follow product standards to protect the public at large,” he said.
Gatchalian said it took two years for the 18th Congress to approve the vape law.