By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
After President Rodrigo Duterte announced last week an immediate nationwide ban on the public use of e-cigarettes (a.k.a. vaping), including the sale of any and all paraphernalia related to the product, the Philippine National Police (PNP) admitted that there were a lot of unanswered questions on how to implement the presidential order.
The PNP asked: In the absence of a law, what punishments can the PNP mete against those who defy the ban?
Still, the PNP announced that anyone caught vaping in public would be arrested following “the order of the President.”
Initially, the Department of Justice said an executive order from the President was forthcoming. This, however, was denied by the Chief Executive.
“I do not have to issue an EO” because there is already a law against nicotine, Duterte said.
“If you vape in public, there is nicotine. And so with other chemical combustion there, you are already violating the law in vaping because it contains nicotine,” he said during the inauguration of a coal plant in Sarangani province.
While the country does have its Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 which strictly regulates smoking in public places, not all vaping fluids used in e-cigarettes have nicotine. Some have fruit or other flavors.
Duterte justified his order to likewise confiscate vaping products under the Consumer Act of the Philippines. He said it was “common sense” to ban a product that was prohibited in the place where it was manufactured. It is not legal in Vermont and California, he said.
The Department of Health gave its full support to the President’s ban.
Without saying so, the President may have been influenced by the growing number of cases of lung illnesses in the US, where vaping was first introduced.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl from the Visayas was the first in the country to be hospitalized with lung injury reportedly caused by her vaping habit.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines said the President’s order could still be challenged in court but Duterte warned judges not to oppose his ban by issuing restraining orders.
A later clarification from Malacañang said that the ban only covers vaping in public places and does not cover the importation and sale of vaping products.
In support of the President’s ban, bills have been filed in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate that would forbid the use, sale, manufacture and importation of electronic cigarettes.
Before Duterte’s sudden announcement, vaping had also been banned in such countries as India, Singapore, Thailand and Brazil. Vaping is also banned in Massachusetts.
Locally, even prior to Duterte’s announcement, vaping had already been strictly regulated or banned outright in such places as Quezon City (the capital City of Manila), Pasig City, Taguig City, Pasay City, Muntinlupa City, Navotas City, Antipolo City, Davao City, Iloilo City, Bacolod City and Baguio City.
As of press time, there have only been a few incidents of individuals being caught vaping in public. They were given warnings but no arrests have been recorded thus far.
Late last week, the first organized group that will seek to overturn the Presidential ban came to the fore. The United Vapers Against E-Cigarette Ban filed a petition signed by 602 members.
The organization said: “Help save the life of smokers by allowing them to choose a safer alternative.”
The group added that “the false claims people have been making about e-cigarettes being unhealthy and causing disease are completely false.”
It was pointed out that the burden of proving that vaping was harmful belonged not to the President but to the Philippine Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration.