New DOH chief urged to keep e-cigarettes in check

New DOH chief urged to keep e-cigarettes in check
Tobacco control advocates have been calling for programs meant to keep in check e-cigarette use in the country.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — While tobacco control advocates welcomed the appointment of Teodoro Herbosa as Health Secretary, they urged the new cabinet member to strictly implement regulations against e-cigarettes.

In a joint statement, the HealthJustice Philippines, Parents Against Vape (PAV), Action for Economic Reforms (AER) and Philippine Legislator’s Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) said they are confident that Herbosa will continue to support strong tobacco control efforts, including increased funding for tobacco prevention and stronger regulation of e-cigarette use.

PAV, in particular, called for programs meant to keep in check e-cigarette use in the country.

The group cited a survey by the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), which revealed that one in seven Filipino students aged 13 to 15 said that they are currently using e-cigarettes.

“The GYTS offers compelling evidence that e-cigarettes and other tobacco products are widely accessible even when a law restricts access to minors. We call on Sec. Ted Herbosa to push for the strong implementation of laws that protect the youth against the harms of vaping and smoking,” PAV stressed.

Child Rights Network (CRN) and the PAV had also urged the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to take immediate action to protect the children’s right to health and an environment free from tobacco and nicotine.

Among the suggestions of the advocacy groups is for DepEd and CHED to release guidelines to ensure that the sale of vapes and e-cigarettes is not conducted within a 200-meter radius of schools.

Meanwhile, the tobacco control advocates reiterated their support for Herbosa, whose appointment came 18 months after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed office in 2022.

“We have great confidence in Secretary Ted Herbosa’s leadership to address pressing issues of DOH, and the health sector, including the tobacco epidemic in the Philippines, to achieve a healthy country,” the group said.

They cited Herbosa’s strong backing of six tax measures on tobacco products during his stint as DOH undersecretary under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

It can be recalled that in a 2012 campaign to increase tobacco tax, Herbosa said that the sin tax bill will lead to an increase in the prices of tobacco, which will discourage the youth from smoking and reduce cigarette consumption among established smokers.

The Republic Act 10351 or the Sin Tax Law was then passed the following year.

“He is a champion of universal health care, health taxes, the welfare of health workers, the use of health technology assessment and the use of digitalization, the access to cheap essential medicines, the promotion of alcohol and tobacco control, and the attention to road safety,” AER said in a statement.

“We especially recognize his contribution to the passage of a series of sin taxes, resulting in higher revenues for government, higher budget for health programs particularly universal healthcare, and significant reduction specifically of smoking prevalence.”

The sin tax law, which requires steady increases in excise taxes on tobacco, significantly contributed to the decrease in smoking prevalence among adult Filipinos.  

“The dramatic drop in tobacco use of Filipinos as reflected in the recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) — from 23.8% in 2015 to 19.5% in 2021 — proves that the Philippine government’s strong tobacco control measures are working, especially the initiatives to increase sin tax. We expect Sec. Herbosa to sustain efforts that will further bring down the smoking prevalence in the Philippines,” PAV said. 

"While the results of the 2021 GATS underscore the immense progress the Philippines has made, the Marcos government must not waver in its commitment to address the immeasurable harm of tobacco use. We call on Sec. Ted Herbosa to continue and sustain the implementation of other proven measures to reduce tobacco use. 

Among these are: enacting further increases in tobacco tax, institutionalizing the smoke-free policy, strictly regulating vaping and e-cigarette products to protect children and youth, and strengthening the restrictions on warning labels on tobacco products and tobacco advertising," PLCPD noted.

HealthJustice, for its part, said it is banking on Herbosa to prioritize the health and well-being of Filipinos, especially children. “HealthJustice commits its support and willingness to partner with the DOH in the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law."

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