The Department of Health (DOH) strongly opposes the blatant disregard to public health in the recently-approved Senate Bill (SB) No. 2239 (Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Regulation Act) that seeks to further expand access to vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products.

The bill is retrogressive and contains several provisions that contradict public health goals and international standards. It also undermines the country’s progress in tobacco and control. By lowering the age of access to vapor products from 21 to 18 years old, allowing flavorings, and permitting advertising and sponsorship strategies, the bill, when passed into law, will expose our youth to harmful and addictive substances by making vapor products enticing and easily accessible.

The DOH maintains that vape products are harmful and not risk-free and should be regulated as health products due to their toxic substances and effects. Vape liquids and its emission contain chemicals such as nicotine, propylene glycol, carbonyls, and carbon monoxide that are either addictive, toxic or can cause cancer. Additionally, studies have shown vape use increases the risk of using other known addictive substances such as cigarette use, alcoholism and even marijuana use. There is also growing evidence of the harmful effects of using vapes both to the user and those exposed to its emissions, including its potential to cause cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems and explosion injuries.

The DOH said that the approval of SB No. 2239 puts the Filipino youth at risk. The Department cited the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, which shows that the prevalence of using electronic cigarettes is increasing among the Filipino youth. Data shows that there is a 110% increase in vape use in just 4 years, from 11.7% in 2015 to 24.6% in 2019. A recent study conducted by the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Department of Education (DepEd) also shows that the age of initiation of using electronic cigarettes starts at 10 to 15 years old. The DOH added that this is concerning because several studies noted that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive and decision-making functions, continues to mature until about the age of 25. This predisposes adolescents and young adults to be more susceptible in initiating smoking and subsequent nicotine addiction.

An overwhelming majority of Filipinos support stringent measures in protecting themselves from the harms of using and exposure to electronic cigarettes, according to Pulse Asia Survey conducted from September 6 to 11, 2021. In particular, 74% support a 100% cigarette-or-vape free policy in public spaces, 70% support a policy that restricts accessibility of electronic cigarettes at 21 years old and above, and 62% support a Bill that will ban the availability and accessibility of flavors that appeal to the youth.

The DOH explained that various laws have protected Filipinos from the harms of vapor products and heated tobacco products and stand to be watered down due to SB No. 2239. These laws include Republic Act (RA) Nos. 11346 and 11467, which mandated the regulation of these products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), imposition of taxes, prohibition of access to persons below 21 years old, application of graphic health warnings that is in compliance with RA No. 10643 or the Graphic Health Warnings Law, and prohibition of flavors other than plain tobacco or palin menthol. In addition, Executive Order No. 106 series of 2020 expanded the provisions under the Executive Order No. 26 series of 2017 by including prohibition of public use except in designated smoking/vaping area, expansion of the smoking cessation program, restrictions in advertising, sponsorships and promotions, restrictions in youth access and expansion of the smoke-free task force to include electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and other novel tobacco products.

The DOH enjoins the Filipino people, public health advocates, and champions of health to stay united in our goal of protecting the Filipino people from the harms of vapor products.