On Dec. 13, 2021, the Senate approved on 2nd reading, Senate Bill 2239 (SB 2239), which loosens restrictions on the use of vape and heated tobacco products. The Sin Tax Coalition strongly condemns this act as a betrayal of trust of the Filipino people.

While we focused on controlling the pandemic, risking our lives to help the people, our senators sneakily pushed for a bill that would earn billions for the tobacco industry, at the cost of lives of millions of Filipinos.

SB 2239 reduces the age limit from 21 to 18 years old, and transfers regulatory powers from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Department of Health (DOH), to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). This means our senators consider vape and heated tobacco products (HTPs) as products of leisure with no adverse effects on health at all.

Senator Ralph Recto and other proponents of the bill support tobacco industry claims that vape and HTPs “reduce harm” compared to cigarettes. The truth is that these products can “increase harm” especially when taken by young people and non-smokers. Nicotine is an addictive substance and studies have shown that users are more likely to use other addictive substances. For example, studies have shown that e-cigarettes increase the use of tobacco by 100%, use of marijuana by 500% and use of illicit drugs like amphetamines by 300%.

The coalition condemns the railroading of this bill headed by Senate President Tito Sotto and Majority Floor Leader Migz Zubiri. As re-electionists, it’s ironic how the they promise a better Philippines when they themselves work against public health to favor corporate interests.

We praise Senator Pia Cayetano for her moral and political courage to fight tooth and nail to protect our youth from this dangerous product. She was a strong, clear, dissenting voice throughout the debates. Senator Bong Go, who heads the Senate Health Committee, and Senator Joel Villanueva supported her in many instances. We are shocked that usual pro-health legislators such as Senators Drilon, Hontiveros, Pangilinan, Pimentel and Pacquiao objectively supported Recto’s bill by either abstaining or even supporting the most egregious features of the bill.

We call on the people to remember all legislators who will support this bill in one way or another on the 3rd and final reading on Dec. 16. 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.

Finally, we call on President Rodrigo Duterte to veto this bill in its entirety, as his final act to fulfill a campaign promise to combat all forms of addiction and substance abuse.