MANILA (UPDATE)— Several sectoral groups urged outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Bill, otherwise known as the Vape Bill, to protect children and the youth from accessing heated tobacco products (HTPs) easily.
The bill, which was ratified by both Houses of Congress, is up for the President’s signature. Duterte's term ends on June 30.
The groups claim the bill is being “railroaded” and will lapse into law.
"Isa itong maniobra para mag-lapse ang batas na ito. Ang bill kapag hindi ito pinirmahan ng isang pangulo, magla-lapse ito within 30 days, magiging batas pa rin. Kaya ang gusto natin, ay mabigyan ng chance si Pangulong Duterte na ma-review at ma-veto ang Vape Bill," said Atty. Ben Nisperos of HealthJustice Philippines.
(This is a political maneuvering so this measure will lapse into a law. If the bill is not signed by the President within 30 days, it lapses into a law. What we want is for the President to review this and veto it.)
"Papayag po bang gawing negosyo ang kalusugan at kinabukasan ng ating kabataan?" said Imelda Esposado- Gocotano, convenor of Parents against Vape.
(Will you allow this to become a business that exploits the health and the future of our children?)
The groups oppose the proposed regulations under the said bill, which includes putting the regulation of the products under the jurisdiction of the Department of Trade and Industry instead of the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the increased accessibility of the vape products to younger people - 18 years old instead of the current regulation of 21 years old.
According to a youth leader, vapes now find younger users.
"I personally know young people like, the same age as me na gumagamit o nakagamit ng vape. These people are just ages 17, 16, 15 and with the lowest 11 years old. It’s disappointing… 'Di na nga mahigpit na pinapatupad ay balak pa nilang paluwagan ito (the regulation is not strict and they still want to loosen it further). And they are doing this to favor the tobacco industry," said 17 year-old Karylle Aliswag.
The bill can still lapse into law even if it matures at the time President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been inaugurated.
“We urgently call on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to veto the Vape Bill. Protektahan po natin ang ating mga kapwa Pilipino,” Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Dr. Minerva Calimag said.
The vape bill has yet to be transmitted to Malacañang, acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar said on May 24.
Medical experts belied claims of other medical practitioners that these alternative tobacco products can help non-smokers quit.
Dr. Antonio Dans of the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine described it as "harm introduction."
“May mangilan-ngilang doctor na nagde-defend sa vape bill. Sabi nila, harm reduction. Hindi po iyan totoo, it is harm introduction. Kailangan tandaan natin yan," said Dans.
(Some doctors are defending the vape bill. They say this is a form of harm reduction. That's not true, this is harm introduction. We need to remember that.)
The non-movement of the bill under Duterte, whom experts said is an "anti-smoking advocate," seemed "very suspicious."
“Ang alam namin, natutulog ang bill... Eh 5 buwan na since it was approved at di pa fino- forward, nagtataka na kami," said Dans.
(The bill is sleeping. It has been 5 months already since it was approved, and yet it has yet to be forwarded. We are wondering.)
"Strategy ba ito para malampasan yung authority ng Pangulo na i-review yan? Isa sa panawagan namin sa Senate, sa Congress- i-pass na yan sa Office of the President para ma-review ng Pangulo."
(Is this a strategy to go past the President's authority to review it? The Senate and Congress should transmit it to the Office of the President so he could review it.)
The Department of Health (DOH) also joined the chorus of voices urging the President to veto the controversial bill.
In a statement on Wednesday, the DOH said that this would help protect children from accessing products with nicotine, like vape, easily.
"The Vape Bill contravenes public health goals and the avowed policy of the Duterte administration to protect the Filipinos especially the youth," the agency said.
If the outgoing president fails to veto the bill with barely 3 weeks left in his administration, the anti-vape advocates plan to push for its reversal in Congress.
“Kung hindi man ito ma-veto at mag-lapse into law, meron tayong option na i-reverse ito, gumawa tayo ng bagong koalisyon ng mga mambabatas para ma-reverse ulit ito,” Nisperos of HealthJustice Philippines said.
(If this is not vetoed and it lapses into a law, we have an option to reverse it with the help of a new coalition of lawmakers.)
“Kung hindi man, dun sa pag-crafting ng IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulation) para protektahan yung natitirang protective policies and provisions.”
(If not, the focus should be on the crafting of IRR to safeguard the protective policies and provisions.)
They are also studying the possibility of filing a motion at the Supreme Court.