Senate to hold caucus on vape ban

Senator Pia Cayetano said she is pushing for the passage of the tax measure before the end of the year so it can be enforced in early 2020. President Duterte certified the bill –which will supposedly yield P40 to P50 billion in annual revenues – as urgent.
KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are seeking clarification from Malacañang on the extent of President Duterte’s vaping ban, as the chamber begins to tackle proposals to prohibit or regulate e-cigarettes or  vapes,  and aim to pass next month the Sin Tax Bill which includes such products.

This afternoon, senators are going into a caucus upon the request of Sen. Pia Cayetano, chairperson of the ways and means committee, to tackle the timetable of the passage of Senate Bill 1074 or the Sin Tax Bill.

Adding a wrinkle to the plenary deliberations of the bill was Duterte’s order to ban vaping – and directive to the Philippine National Police to arrest anyone caught vaping in public – after the Department of Health confirmed the first case of an e-cigarette or vape-associated lung injury involving a 16-year-old girl from the Visayas.

Cayetano said she is pushing for the passage of the tax measure before the end of the year so it can be enforced in early 2020. President Duterte certified the bill –which will supposedly yield P40 to P50 billion in annual revenues – as urgent.

Under the bill, every individual cartridge, refill, pod or container of vapes with nicotine salt shall be imposed an excise tax of P45 per milliliter (ml), or a fraction thereof, starting Jan. 1, 2020. The tax will increase by increments of P5 until it reaches P60 in 2023.

For conventional “freebase” or “classic” nicotine, a tax of P45 per 10 ml, or a fraction thereof, will be imposed. The levy will increase by P5 every year until 2023.

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Among the lawmakers who have filed or intend to file measures to prohibit vapes are Cayetano, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Francis Tolentino.

Tolentino earlier said vapes have no legal cover to be sold in the country and warned such devices can be used to inhale drugs.

 Zubiri said they would seek clarification from Duterte on his directive as it could entail amendments to the Sin Tax Bill.

“I think the President also mentioned that vaping can be allowed inside homes. If that’s the case, then I would favor the tax provisions to remain, unless Malacañang clarifies it a total ban,” Zubiri told in an interview aired over dzBB.

 He said he was inclined to push for regulation instead of a total ban, as users might return to smoking, which is considered deadlier.

‘Don’t treat us like drug addicts’

“Ano ba kami? Mga drug users? It’s not illegal,” Joel Lising, co-manager of the Vape Well in Mandaluyong City, said in a recent interview.

Lising has been managing the affairs of the Vape Well with other business partners for four years. The store is located along Boni Avenue in Barangay Plainview, right in front of the Mandaluyong Medical Center.

According to Lising, some of their regular customers are doctors and nurses of the hospital.

He said the government should first get their facts straight before targeting what he described as a booming industry.

There is no issue as far as Lising is concerned, as responsible vape users like him only smoke at home or designated smoking areas.

Two store workers of Vapers HQ, situated along E. Pantaleon street in Barangay Hulo who only identified themselves as John and Lads, said they constantly remind their customers to only smoke at their shop or at their respective homes.

“We tell them not to smoke when going outside,” said John.

Lising is concerned that Duterte’s directive might force local government units to revoke the business permits of vape shops.

“We will comply but I hope they will also listen to our side,” he said.

The Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association, for its part, said regulation is the best way to address concerns on vapes.

Mobilized police patrols have accosted at least 10 persons in Metro Manila for violating the vaping ban over the past days, said National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas.

The NCRPO chief said the violators were from the Sta. Cruz and Malate areas in Manila, and in Makati City.

“As per the pronouncement of President Duterte, and per directive from the national headquarters, we have placed the ban on importation and use of vapes among our top priorities,” Sinas said.

He added that their office is coordinating with local government units and mall and vape owners to ensure the implementation of the vape ban.

“We will be implementing (a) ‘no vape zone’ in all police camps in Metro Manila, and I already directed all NCRPO personnel to refrain from violating the provisions of this issuance,” Sinas said.