Sen. Pia joins health groups seeking veto of vaping bill

WHILE “rejoicing” that the Supreme Court upheld the mandate of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products, Sen. Pia Cayetano has joined doctors and health advocates pushing for the veto of the vape bill, which the 18th Congress approved, and gives to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), not FDA, the main task of regulating vape products.

The SC decision “is clearly that the FDA must regulate all products that affect health. So this to me would clearly include vapes and e-cigs. On that note, it makes it simpler if the President [Duterte] would veto the bill. A lot of us are quite confident because naiintindihan niya ang [he understands the] science. We are hoping talaga [really] that he would veto,” Cayetano said in a news briefing where she was joined by several leading health advocates, including former FDA chief Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go.

However, Cayetano noted, partly in Filipino, that, “from what I know, the Vape Bill is not yet in Malacañang and I am surprised, since that was passed in January and yet it’s not yet with Malacañang. So as far as I am concerned, when June 30 comes around” and the bill is with the President,… “we pray that he will do the right thing and veto it.”

“However, if it has not been sent to Malacañang before June 30, tapos na yan [that bill is over]. Because it was not sent to the President on time.”

Referring to incoming President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., she added, “And my prayer is that the new President and his administration would uphold health care. I know the President comes from a tobacco-growing [province], but I also know that the President will do what he needs to do to protect the health of the Filipino people.”

Cayetano convened the briefing to expound on the implications of the recent 
“landmark Supreme Court decision that is very science-based and upholds the right of Filipinos to health.” In that SC case (GR 2200431), where the high court upheld the FDA’s “power and authority” to regulate tobacco products, she and Minority leader Franklin M. Drilon had acted as intervenors.

“This decision of the SC is so relevant because when I worked on the FDA law (RA 9711)—that was 2009 in the 14th Congress, and I was just in my fifth year as a senator—I was already fighting that the FDA should regulate all products that affect health, because that’s the definition in the FDA Law. ‘Health product’ refers to any product that may have an effect on health,” Cayetano said.

“In 2009, I fought for that,” she recalled, partly in Filipino.

“Fast-forward to this Congress, in the last six months prior to the campaign period, I fought again for this, because of this new product called the e-cigs and the vapes. I explained that health products, as defined by law, is anything that affects health. And the example I gave—shampoo, conditioner, insect repellant, lotion, cosmetics, food products—all are regulated by FDA. So, vapes and e-cigs should also be regulated,” the senator stressed.

“And now, the SC has upheld basically that principle—that if it is a product that affects your health, the FDA should regulate,” she added.

She then asked the “vanguards of health…many of whom have worked on this FDA law, on tobacco control, and even now on these related products called vapes and e-cigs,” to weigh in on the matter.

Dr. Maricar Limpin, Executive Director, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance-Philippines (FCAP), noted that, “every hour, 13 Filipinos die from tobacco use, according to the Global Burden of Disease report published in 2017.”

This makes an agency with FDA’s mandate to crucial, she added, while expressing hopes that, “the incumbent President heeds the call of doctors and health advocates to veto the vape bill.”

Definitely, Limpin said, “the DTI cannot do the job of protecting health; only the FDA has power to do that with the leadership of DOH.”

Dr. Edgardo Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), noted that “in all other ASEAN countries, it is the ministry of health regulating tobacco products.” He found it “ unusual that here in the Philippines, the  DTI was made the head of the interagency committee on tobacco.”

Before the US surgeon general came out with the first report on smoking and health in 1964, cigarettes were considered as consumer products for 16 years. Since 1964, governments across the world have been regulating tobacco products as health products, Dorotheo added. “More than 8 million people are killed every year due to tobacco – more than 120,000 Filipinos a year. It is not just a regular consumer product. Cigarettes are now more harmful than before,” he added.

For his part, ex-FDA chief Dr. Hartigan-Go said that, “After almost 10 years, we got the law interpreted correctly. Cigarettes are products that contain harmful substances that affect health.”


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