Action for Economic Reforms (AER) calls on the Senate to junk Senate Bill No. 2239 entitled “An Act Regulating the Importation, Manufacture, Sale, Packaging, Distribution, Use, and Communication of Vapor Products and Heated Tobacco Products.”

The bill is being deceptively portrayed as a health measure, but it is a regressive policy that unnecessarily weakens Republic Act 11467, the existing law regulating e-cigarettes passed in 2020.

SB 2239 exposes the youth to harm by lowering the minimum age of access to e-cigarettes from 21 to 18 years old, allowing additive flavors which attract the youth, and permitting online sales of e-cigarettes.

The youth are particularly vulnerable to e-cigarette and vape use, as the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey showed that one in seven Filipinos aged 13 to 15 use e-cigarettes. It is thus crucial that we protect the youth from accessing these addictive and harmful products. We must protect future generations from the vaping illness epidemic already taking place in other countries.

Senator Ralph Recto, the bill’s sponsor, defends the bill by claiming that vaping is an effective smoking cessation tool. However, replacing one addiction with another is neither safe nor healthy. There is no high quality evidence behind the claim that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditionally manufactured cigarettes.

The bill also removes the responsibility of e-cigarette and vape regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is mandated to handle drugs and other dangerous substances. Given the harmful effects of vape and e-cigarette products, the most appropriate regulator is the FDA.

Pulse Asia’s September 2021 Ulat ng Bayan survey revealed that 70% of vape/e-cigarette users consider the effect of these products on health as a serious health hazard. Even vape and e-cigarette users themselves consider vape and e-cigarette products harmful, and agree that these products require stricter regulation.

If the public supports existing vaping regulations and recognizes vaping as a hazard, why should we relax these regulations? During a pandemic, why should we make it easier for the youth to start an addictive habit that has proven to lead to serious lung injury and death?

In this light, we join health professionals in urging senators to vote against this regressive policy which is anti-health, anti-youth and pro-industry. We urge senators to retain the minimum age of access to e-cigarettes, prohibit flavored additives in e-cigarettes, and prohibit online sale of e-cigarettes. By voting against the bill, they will show their inclination towards protecting public health over protecting the interests of the tobacco industry.