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Opinion

Clearing the air

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

If not regulated, vape or vaporized nicotine products, including electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, would proliferate, especially through illicit means among Filipino minors. Valenzuela City Mayor Wes Gatchalian, previously deputy House speaker during the 18th Congress, echoed this warning amid the renewed debate over the newly enacted Vape bill.

The Congressman-turned Mayor took up the cudgels for Republic Act (RA) 11900, otherwise known as the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, Vape law, for short. The bill lapsed into law last July 25 without the signature of former president Rodrigo Duterte nor his immediate successor into office, newly installed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

At the outset, Gatchalian asserted, there was nothing unusual or illegal that a bill lapsed into law and not vetoed by Malacanang as pressed by its rabid oppositors. Approved into law by the previous Congress, its printed enrolled bill was transmitted to Malacanang last June 25, or five days before the Duterte administration bowed out of office.

Known for his staunch anti-smoking policy, ex-president Duterte obviously stayed out of the controversial Vape bill. In the case of President Marcos, he, too, could not be openly seen as supportive of the Vape bill that might seriously cut into the livelihood of tobacco-growers from his “solid north” Ilocos Region.

In the end, we must submit due respect to presidential prerogatives in their decision-making process.

Contrary to arguments raised by staunch anti-vape advocates, Gatchalian told our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, the new law strictly protects minors from illicit access to these now regulated vape and e-cigarettes products. More so, he argued, it would safeguard existing vape users against defective and substandard vape and e-cigarette products from “backyard” industries creating their own alternative devices.

Describing it as a “landmark” law, Gatchalian noted with optimism and confidence the Vape Law will promote and enhance “innovative” and technology-based vape and e-cigarette products to safely wean away more than 16 million Filipino smokers from the more harmful tobacco and cigarettes.

Also speaking as a resource person during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum, Dr. Lorenzo Mata Jr., president of smoking cessation advocacy group Quit for Good, pointed out vaping is safer than smoking cigarette and tobacco products. An occupational medical doctor, Mata explained tobacco generates up to 7,000 chemicals when lit and 70 of these are carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals compared to smoke-free vapes and e-cigarettes.

Joining us in our weekly breakfast news forum that we hold at Café Adriatico, Joey Dulay, president of the Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association, argued that vapes are the best alternatives for people who struggle from cessation of smoking. Dulay pointed to “cold turkey,” or side effects of their nicotine addiction when heavy smokers abruptly stop their smoking habit. Dulay believes the Vape Law would also help local government units (LGUs) to effectively regulate vape to ensure these are not sold near schools, churches and other areas frequented by minors.

Gatchalian co-authored and sponsored its passage into law as chairman of the House committee on trade during the previous 18th Congress. He insisted the Vape Law went through extreme care in the deliberations on the proposed Vape bill. First filed during the 16th Congress, he disclosed, it failed to get through the legislative mills while waiting for scientific and medical reviews. It finally got approved two Congresses later.

During his stint in the 18th Congress, the various proposed Vape bills underwent the most number of public hearings of his House committee on trade as well as the House committee on health. Gatchalian, a self-confessed non-smoker, led the deliberations on the Vape bills. He recalled having conducted ten joint public hearings of the two House committees. They invited local and international health and medical experts, including a representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) whether they supported or opposed the proposed Vape bill.

At the very least, Mayor Gatchalian exhorted anti-vape advocates to “give a chance” to the new Vape Law before shooting it down even before it could take effect.

And if I may add, while it has lapsed into law, our country’s existing laws require prior publication in the Official Gazette or newspapers of national circulation before it can take effect.

Gatchalian assuaged anti-vape advocates the 19 Senators and 195 members of the House of Representatives during the 18th Congress who all voted to pass this into law ensured a “one-stop-shop” solution to regulate the rising popular use of vapes and e-cigarette. As estimated, the national government would earn additional tax revenues from vapes and e-cigarettes amounting to P27 billion that it could use to fund much needed basic public services.

As crafted by the lawmakers, he cited, this law mandated the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to control the sale and distribution of vape and e-cigarette devices. Among other features of the Vape law provided for stiff penalties to violators on the ban of selling these products near schools and other public areas, controlling the release of flavored vape products “to prevent marketing among the youth,” and hefty fines for those who do not post graphic health warnings and those selling prohibited vape products online.

Unless otherwise stopped by any court injunction, the anti-vapers should closely guard the crafting of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 11900.

Incidentally, August is supposed to be the National Lung Month in observance of keeping healthy our pair of lungs. To quit smoking cigarettes is one of the ways to save the lungs of Filipino smokers and several million lives more as victims of secondhand smoking.

That said, the Vape Law would hopefully clear the air from the deadly smoke.

VAPE

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