FORMER HEALTH SECRETARIES RENEW CALLS TO VETO THE VAPE BILL

From left: Atty. Benedict Nisperos, legal consultant of HealthJustice; Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of SEATCA; Atty. Alex Padilla, former Undersecretary of the Department of Health; and May Mendoza, President of HealthJustice and former commissioner of the Civil Service Commission

Roselle R. Aquino

Calamba City  – Former Health Secretaries Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan and Dr. Esperanza Cabral appealed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to veto the Vape Regulation Bill (SB 2239) and fully implement existing regulatory provisions on such products contained in Republic Act Nos. 11346 and 11467 that were passed in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The call is in light of the recent ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) affirming the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over tobacco products.

The Vape Regulation Bill is one of the bills that were submitted late in the former Administration that was then inherited by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The SC, in the case filed by the Philippine Tobacco Institute to question the authority of the FDA over tobacco products, ruled that Section 25 of Republic Act No. 9711 clearly establishes that the law shall cover all health products, except for acts covered by special laws. Hence, matters not covered by special laws remain under the FDA’s broad regulatory authority.

Cabral underscored that for the longest time the public health community continues to assert that DOH and the FDA have jurisdiction over tobacco and similar products such as vape products or e-cigarettes.

“The FDA and the DOH should have the final say on any and all products that impact people’s health,” Cabral said.

For his part, former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan said that this decision ultimately tells the public that health experts in this country are the DOH and the FDA.

“Policy-makers and the public should listen to FDA and DOH instead of industry-backed groups claiming to be health experts but are actually peddling vapes.”

Prior to stepping down as Secretary of Health, Dr. Francisco Duque III also reiterated the agency’s position against the Vape Bill and categorically stated that their ‘end goal’ is that the Vape bill will not be enacted into law.

In an earlier statement, Former Secretary Duque also referred to the vape bill as a ‘Trojan horse’ to the former administration. He explained that “The bill will achieve the opposite of its intended purpose of strengthening tobacco industry regulation as it relaxes the restrictions on the minimum age of access, flavorings, regulation, distribution, advertising, promotion, sale, and use of these products.”

Atty. Alexander Padilla, former Undersecretary of Health, is of the view that this is an opportunity for the DOH and FDA to assert its mandate over tobacco products and vapes.

“The broad powers of the FDA as affirmed by the Supreme Court should be used by the agency to consolidate the regulations for vapes and tobacco to ensure effective enforcement for the protection of public health.”

Former Civil Service Commissioner Mary Ann Z. Fernandez-Mendoza highlights the acknowledgement of the Supreme Court on the competence and mandate of the FDA ‘to ensure safety, efficacy, purity, and quality’ health products which includes tobacco products because it negatively impacts health.

“This decision is important to improving good governance in our country as it rationalizes the functions of government agencies. To divide jurisdiction over tobacco and vapes that are harmful to health would mean that protection of public health will have to be compromised with other interests,” Mendoza said. “If public health is compromised, like what the vape bill does, public health loses.” 

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Executive Director Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo likewise urged President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr to veto the vape bill, citing the President’s earlier veto of the Bulacan Airport special economic zone. In rejecting the House Bill 7575, which seeks the establishment of the Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Bulakan town, President Marcos noted that its provisions infringes on or conflict with other agencies’ mandates and authorities. He also noted that the enrolled bill “lacks coherence with existing laws, rules, and regulations.”

“The President vetoed the bill (HB 7575) because it is not consistent with existing laws and fiscal reforms. The same is true with the vape bill. It is inconsistent with existing laws that already regulate these products by limiting flavors to menthol and tobacco, limiting access to those aged 21 years and above, and mandating the FDA to regulate these harmful products,” Dr. Dorotheo stressed. “The vape bill will weaken these regulations and is against the Marcos administrations’ policy to provide better health and better life for Filipinos. We hope the President sees the inconsistency in the vape bill and vetoes it before July 24.”

To date, there is still no news from the Office of the President on the fate of the Vape Bill.

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