On Thursday, August 27, the members of the House of Representatives Joint Committees on Trade and Industry and Health approved behind closed doors a substitute bill on the regulation of the use, sale, and distribution of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products. The substitute bill was an output of a series of technical working group (TWG) discussions that had been concluded on August 18.
This schedule was announced and agreed on during the last TWG meeting and posted on the calendar of the House of Representatives website with the note that the meeting will be broadcast via the House of Representatives’ Facebook page. A few days after, the schedule was deleted from the calendar, but the joint committees proceeded with the meeting and approved the substitute bill without amendments.
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development and the Child Rights Network decry how the joint committees chose to deliberate on an important bill: behind closed doors, and without giving stakeholders—including public health experts and advocates—a chance to state their position for the members of the two committees to hear before they make their decision.
Unfortunately, the version that was put forward by the TWG and that was approved by the joint committees without amendments reverses gains for the protection of health and protection of children and young people that were made possible by recent legislation (Republic Act 11467) that has introduced some form of regulation on electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products. These include the following:
- FDA as the lead for the regulation of these products. The recently approved version puts regulation in the care of the Department of Trade and Industry, where it will be regulated as a regular consumer product.
- Age restriction for sale and use at 21 years old and non-smokers. The recently approved version retrogresses at age 18, even though all health authorities and experts who spoke before the TWG recommend a higher age restriction.
- Ban on flavors except conventional tobacco and menthol. The recently approved version allows flavors, including ones that are attractive to children and youth.
We lament that the TWG, and subsequently the joint committees, voted to reverse these gains—ignoring scientific evidence and the voice of public health, children’s rights advocates, and health authorities in the course of the deliberation of the bills and instead choosing to protect the interest of the tobacco industry.
As the substitute bill is sponsored in the plenary, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development and the Child Rights Network appeal to all members of the House of Representatives to reject the current version with these retrogressive provisions and to protect the mandate of the existing law. We will remain vigilant of the actions of legislators and continue to remind them to put children and the health of the Filipinos above the commercial interests of the industry.