House seeks stronger regulation of e-cigarette use by minors

Michelle Abad
House seeks stronger regulation of e-cigarette use by minors
The House is building on the provisions of the recently-passed excise tax law, such as the ban on flavored e-liquids for e-cigarettes that make it appealing to young people

MANILA, Philippines – The House committees on health and trade and industry approved on Tuesday, January 28, the creation of a technical working group (TWG) that would craft stronger regulation of minors’ use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes.

This comes about a week after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11467 on new excise taxation rates for alcohol and tobacco products. The law also now prohibits the sale of e-liquids or “juices” that are not tobacco- or menthol-flavored, in an effort to reduce the appeal of e-cigarettes to young people. 

The House TWG will consolidate the 11 bills so far seeking to regulate the use, sale, packaging, distribution, and advertisement of ENDS.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said it was now the time to do away with “motherhood statements” on the need to allow access to less harmful alternatives to smokers while also preventing underaged use of ENDS, and proceed to the “hows” of regulation.

On June 14, 2019, the Department of Health released Administrative Order 2019-0007 in an attempt to regulate e-cigarettes, only to be met by court injunctions by members of the ENDS industry.

Rodriguez advised the Food and Drug Administration to hold the release of any regulation as to not preempt the decisions of the TWG. 

The regulation dilemma

Leading e-cigarette company JUUL Labs attended the House hearing on Tuesday.

Following the scandal and crackdown in the United States, JUUL strengthened its self-regulation to minimize youth access and appeal in its operations as it expanded abroad, and to the Philippines in June 2019. Its mission here was to help the 16 million smokers transition to an alternative.

However, House health committee vice chair Joet Garcia said the context of the Philippines is that many vape users are either non-smokers or underaged.

“You’re helping the 16 million, but we’re also trying to help the people who do not smoke,” Garcia told the JUUL representatives in the hearing.

JUUL APAC South president Kenneth Bishop said that even before the law was passed, they stopped ordering flavored pods for the Philippine market, especially after United States President Donald Trump announced the ban on non-tobacco and non-menthol flavors in the US last January 2.

Trade and industry committee vice chair Manuel Zubiri believes the priority of the regulation debate must be focused on prevention of underaged use, especially since there are harmful effects of e-cigarettes that have yet to be discovered.

“We are not 100% sure about long-term effects. And we have kids 12 to 14 years old using them. So we have to be extra careful,” he said. 

The panel and resource persons also looked at regulations of other countries, such as Israel, which has minimal black packaging on JUUL products with straightforward text as labels.

Sin taxes on nicotine salt products, a common form of e-liquid, are to be taxed at P37 per mL in 2020, as per the recently signed excise tax law. – 

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.