Just hours after President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would ban e-cigarette use, police were ordered on Wednesday to begin arresting people caught vaping in public and to confiscate the devices.
The abrupt prohibition, revealed by President Duterte late Tuesday, adds to a growing global backlash against a product once promoted as less harmful than smoking.
“I will ban it. I will ban it, the use and the importation. I hope everybody is listening… You know why? Because it is toxic. And the government has the power to issue measures to protect public health and public interest,” Duterte told Palace reporters.
“Better stop it because I will order your arrest if you do it in a room. I am now ordering the law enforcement agencies to arrest anybody vaping in public. That is like smoking,” Duterte added.
Duterte called the devices “toxic” and said vaping introduced “chemicals” into the user’s body.
He also spoke of the dangers of second-hand vapors.
“You contaminate people who are not yet ready to die,” Duterte said.
He then threatened to arrest anyone vaping publicly in a country that already has some of Asia’s toughest anti-smoking rules.
The President, a former smoker, is notorious internationally for his deadly anti-narcotics crackdown, but he has also targeted tobacco with a wide-ranging ban on smoking in public.
Citing “the order of the President”, the head of the Philippine National Police ordered “effective today, all police units nationwide to enforce the ban on use of vapes; ensure that all violators will be arrested,” a statement said.
Duterte’s order came days after Health officials reported the nation’s first vaping-related lung injury, which resulted in a 16-year-old girl being hospitalized.
About 24 percent of Filipinos were tobacco users according to a 2015 World Health Organization study, the most recent available.
E-cigarettes do not “burn” but instead heat up a liquid—tasting of anything from bourbon to bubble gum, and which usually contains nicotine—that turns into vapor and is inhaled.
The vapor is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.
However, critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavors of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.
E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the United States is feeding caution about the product, already banned in some places.
In September 2019, India became the latest country to ban the import, sale, production, and advertising of e-cigarettes, citing in particular concerns about its youth.
The devices are already banned in several places such as Brazil, Singapore, Thailand and the US state of Massachusetts.
Before Duterte’s presidency, the Philippines already had a ban on tobacco advertising, as well as a law that requires graphic images of smoking health hazards to be printed on cigarette packaging.
PNP Officer-in-Charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa said they would coordinate with local government units and agencies to effectively enforce the order banning all establishments and stores from selling vape products.
“All heads of offices and chief of police units in all levels are held accountable for the strict enforcement and compliance of their personnel with the ban,” Gamboa said.
Gamboa has also declared all PNP camps and offices as “No Vape Zone,” as he urged all vape users to cease and desist from using e-cigarettes.
Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo, meanwhile, played down the loss of tax revenue that a ban on vape would have on funding for the Universal Health Care program.
“It will have no huge effect on the funding for universal health care,” he said, pointing out that the Finance Department projected taxes from e-cigarettes would reach P1 billion to P2 billion a year.
The amount, he said, is significantly lower than the P70 billion to P80 billion in taxes collected from alcohol and cigarettes, which are expected to increase by P40 billion to P50 billion by 2020.
Domingo noted that the government expense for treating patients of vape would be much bigger than the taxes to be generated from them.
Saying that the President’s verbal order is a “welcome development,” Domingo said they are now waiting for the executive order with the specifics of the President’s pronouncements.
The DOH official said they want to regulate the contents of e-cigarettes and vapes to ensure they would not contain poisonous substances; to prevent their sale to minors, prohibit their use in public; and restrict flavors and advertising that may attract children.
Sin Tax Coalition co-convenor Dr. Anthony Leachon said he believes the President wants to “nip it in the bud,” while it’s in the early stage of marketing and development in the country.
He noted that many countries like Brazil, Singapore, the Seychelles, Uruguay, and India have banned e-cigarettes.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the ban will definitely affect the sin tax bill, but added that he did not support the ban.
“Many studies suggest that there are e-cigarettes that are less harmful than cigarettes,” he said.
Recto’s statement was contrary to the statement of the World Health Organization that e-cigarettes are “undoubtedly harmful” and should be subject to regulation. With AFP