In a press conference on Wednesday, health advocates and leaders of medical societies condemned the Senate passage of Senate Bill 2239, or the Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act. The bill was approved on second reading last December 13, 2021.

“We strongly condemn this act as a betrayal of trust of the Filipino people,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians.

Dr. Limpin noted that SB 2239 is masquerading as a regulatory law, but it actually weakens existing regulations by making e-cigarette, vape and heated tobacco products (HTPs) more accessible to the young.

The bill reduces the age of access to e-cigarettes from 21 to 18 years old, permits online sale of e-cigarettes, and transfers regulatory powers from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Department of Health, to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The doctors praised Senator Pia Cayetano for opposing the bill and fighting for stricter vaping regulations, as well as Senators Villanueva and Bong Go for supporting her. Based on their votes during the plenary session last December 13, Senators Cayetano, Go, and Villanueva were the only senators who fully supported stricter vape regulation.

Meanwhile, the group condemned the rest of the Senate for supporting the bill. “For betraying the people’s trust in the midst of the worst health crisis we ever faced, these legislators should never be voted into office again,” said Dr. Limpin. “As re-electionists, it’s ironic how they promise a better Philippines when they themselves work against public health to favor corporate interests.”

The doctors criticized Senators Zubiri, Recto, and Sotto for leading the railroading of the bill, and expressed their disappointment in Minority Leader Senator Drilon, one of the champions of the Sin Tax Law in 2012, who voted in support of SB 2239.

Contrary to the tobacco and vape industry’s claims of vaping being less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, vaping can increase harm, according to Dr. Corry Avanceña, the head of Task Force Anti-Smoking of the Philippine Academy of Pediatric Pulmonologists (PAPP).

“Vaping is not proven to be safe nor effective in smoking cessation. It is harmful especially for the non-smokers and the youth, who are the primary users of the product,” said Dr. Avanceña, who warned of the rising incidence of vaping-related lung injuries in other countries and called on Senators to protect their children’s health.

Dr. Antonio Dans, internal medicine specialist and co-convenor of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), noted that the use of nicotine, which is a component of e-cigarettes, is proven to be a gateway to the use of other harmful substances.

“We are disappointed and frustrated that the majority of Senators sided with the tobacco industry. They need to be called out and held accountable, especially those who are running for reelection in 2022,” said Dr. Tony Leachon, health reform advocate and former president of the PCP.

The group reminded President Rodrigo Duterte of his campaign promise to fight addiction, and called on the President to veto Senate Bill 2239 in its entirety, should it be passed on third reading by the Senate tomorrow, December 16.