By William Casis

Sen. Christopher Go said he would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte that he issue an executive order to regulate e-cigarettes and vape before they become a large-scale health hazard.

Go noted there is no law to regulate the manufacturing, distribution and sale of e-cigarettes and an attempt by the Department of Health (DoH) to impose some rules have been stymied by a preliminary injunction from a Pasig court.

As chairman of the Senate committee on health, Go said smoking, in all forms, is a public health problem and it hurts almost everyone nearby— smokers and non-smokers alike.

Meanwhile, the Sin Tax Coalition co-convener Dr. Anthony Leachon said he hopes the government steps up and protects the public from the harmful effects of the use of e-cigarettes and vape after the DoH reported the first case of electronic cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the Central Visayas region.

The Coalition urged senators to immediately pass the proposal to raise taxes on electronic cigarettes and vapor products.

In recent months, Leachon said a spike in the number of cases of EVALI has been seen in the United States, with over 2,000 cases reported and 39 people having lost their lives.

Leachon reiterated the coalition’s support for Senate Bill 1074 sponsored by Senate Ways and Means committee Chairperson Pia Cayetano, which seeks to significantly increase taxes on heated tobacco products (HTPs) and vape. The measure was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday.

“Raising taxes has proven to be an effective tool in curbing the consumption of sin products and Sen. Cayetano’s bill has already been certified as a priority measure by the office of the President,” said Leachon.

“Once again, we urge our legislators to act on the call of the President and approve Senate Bill 1074 before the year ends,” he added.

Leachon said the tax increase will serve as a means to prevent vulnerable sectors such as the youth from starting to use e-cigarettes or vape or encouraging them to quit altogether.

According to the 2018 National Nutrition Survey, one out of five vape users in the country is aged 10 to 19.

The Department of Health on Friday confirmed the country’s first reported case of lung injury related to vaping in Central Visayas, even as it warned that legal challenges to its authority over the industry was a step back for public health.

Health Sec. Francisco Duque said the patient was a 16-year-old girl, while a DoH statement said the girl had been using e-cigarettes for 6 months, as well as smoking regular cigarettes.

“If you are currently using electronic cigarettes, you are at great risk for EVALI,” Health Undersec. Eric Domingo said.

“Ask your doctor about the best ways to quit and stay away from its aerosol emissions.”

E-cigarettes vaporize a flavored solution that users inhale. Unlike regular cigarettes, they do not use tobacco.

The patient was admitted to the hospital on October 21 after reporting severe shortness of breath, the DoH said. She required oxygen supplementation and was eventually admitted to the intensive care unit.

Doctors thought the disease to be infectious but confirmed it was EVALI after further evaluation, the health department added.

The DoH earlier called for a ban on vaping, noting e-cigarettes are used by a million Filipinos, most of them young. But a number of vaping companies have sued the Department in Manila and Pasig courts to stop it from exercising its authority over the industry.

Domingo said the Department would abide by the preliminary injunction but said he hoped the lawsuits could be resolved “with utmost urgency.”

Electronic cigarettes, he said, are also being used for the consumption of illicit drugs, exploiting the developing brains of adolescents who are susceptible to addiction and skirting anti-smoking laws designed to protect the non-smoking public.

“As international evidence points out, every delay in regulating electronic cigarettes is a step back for public health. The resolution of these legal issues is in everybody’s interest,” Domingo said.

Without regulation of the industry, Domingo said there is little that stands in the way of unscrupulous persons to take advantage of the situation for financial gain.

He said there are few deterrents to creating e-cigarette products that do not conform to basic safety standards.

The DoH and Food and Drug Administration advise the public, especially persons under the age of 25, pregnant women, immune-compromised persons, the elderly and those with heart disease, to avoid electronic cigarettes.