The Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) expressed their opposition and urged President Rodrigo Duterte to veto a measure seeking to regulate the sale of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products or vapes.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH remains firm in its opposition to the vape bills recently passed at the House of Representatives and the Senate since the DOH considers vape a “threat” to the health of the citizens of the country.

“Malinaw naman ang ating posisiyon diyan. Dahil ito ay banta sa kalusugan ng ating mga kababayan, kami ay sumasang-ayon at sumusuporta sa posisiyon ng mga iba’t-ibang associations na nagpakita ng kanilang disgusto sa vape bill,” he said during an online forum.

“So sinusuportahan po natin sila at pinaglalaban ang kalusugan ng mamayang Pilipino [we support them and we fight for the health of the Filipino public],” Duque said at the Laging Handa briefing.

“Lalong-lalo na ang mga kabataan na ayaw natin mag umpisa sa ganitong klaseng bisyo na wala po idudulot na kabutihan kundi kapahamakan lamang sa kanilang kalusugan,” he added.

The bicameral conference committee last week reconciled the Senate and House versions of their respective vape bills. This still needs to be ratified by both houses of Congress before it is transmitted to Malacañang for Duterte’s signature.

On Sunday, the DOH released a statement calling the bill as “retrogressive” and “contains several provisions that contradict public health goals and international standards.”

“It also undermines the country’s progress in tobacco and control,” it said.

The health department added that the bill is a “blatant disregard to public health”. It adds that the easing on the age restrictions will make vape products easily accessible and more enticing to the Filipino youth.

Meanwhile, a doctors group said the bill is “pro-industry” as it ignored medical experts and tasks the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to regulate vape products instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

In an online forum, PCP president Dr. Maricar Limpin said lawmakers ignored medical experts in crafting the vape bill.

“Masama ang loob namin sa legislators. Ang pinakinggan nila yung industriya lamang. Bakit itong mga industriya ang lalakas sa legislators na ito?” she asked.

She also reminded the president that if he signs the bill into law, he will be breaking a campaign promise against addiction.

“At yung vape bill na ito will break the vow you made to Filipino people to fight addiction. Ang mangyayari ho nito it will increase addiction to cigarettes and alcohol and illicit drugs,” she added.

Limpin said the bill will only expand the tobacco industry’s market to younger Filipinos.

“Ang katotohanan lang talaga itong mga industriya na ito—tobacco industry—it merely wants to expand the market. Siguro mag-e-expand by making it available doon sa mga bata. ‘Yun ang kanilang future clientele yan,” she said.

During the same forum, former FDA Director General Eric Domingo stressed that vape products, which contain nicotine, must be regulated by the FDA and not the DTI as proposed by the bill.

“Ang problema po hindi regulated ang access sa mga produkto na ito. Kahit sino puwedeng bumili. Nakikita natin mga kabataan bumibili ng ganito at dahil hindi regulated, ‘di natin alam kung ano ang laman ng mga binibili nila na ‘yun at ginagamit nila. ‘Di natin alam kung may substance na nagcacause ng cancer or nakamamatay or poisonous,” Domingo said.

“Kaya agree po tayo na kailangan na regulation. Kaya lang the vapes must be regulated by the proper authority,” he added.

“Ito ay sinusunog at pinapasok sa baga ng tao… FDA lamang ang may kakayahan to determine kung wala itong mga lason, yung concentration nya ay di makakamatay sa mga gumagamit,” Domingo said.

The former FDA chief said that an existing Executive Order (EO) authorizes the FDA to regulate vape products thus making the vape bill unnecessary.

“May EO na binalangkas at pinirmahan ng Pangulo na naglalagay ng regulasyon sa FDA. So nakikiusap kami, itong nandiyan na huwag na baliktaran. I-allow ang implementation na ito at protektahan ang kalusugan ng kababayan lalong lalo na ang kabataan,” he added.

Pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Corry Avanceña debunks other doctors’ claims that the bill would “protect the youth.”

“Gusto ng bill ibaba yung pwedeng bumili ng vape… If you smoke, vape early, yung part ng brain na affected [by nicotine] ay for higher learning, memory, moods,” she said. She also reminded the president to think of his youngest daughter, Kitty, when he vetoes the bill.

“Panawagan ko kay President Duterte, isipin si Kitty habang sina-sign ang pagveto ng bill na ito. Let’s think of Filipino children. We don’t want them to start a habit. Gusto natin 21 and above ang bumili,” she said. – Rommel F. Lopez