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Passage in the House of Representatives of a bill regulating vapes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) is almost certain with 154 lawmakers sponsoring a proposed bill which aims to establish a clear and effective law governing non-combustible alternatives to cigarettes.

Rep. Sharon S. Garin, one of the 154 proponents of House Bill No. 9007, said the proposed measure aims to regulate the manufacture, use, sale, packaging, distribution, advertisement and promotion of electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) and HTPs in the country.

Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin Jr., a co-author of the bill, noted that the principle tobacco harm reduction is reflected in the declaration of policy to underscore the need to regulate tobacco and nicotine-containing products proportionate to the risk these products have on the consumer.

"This measure is co-authored by 154 of our colleagues. Let me also inform the body that this bill was approved with an overwhelming 102 affirmative votes with only 12 negative votes and two abstentions after extensive discussions by the Joint Committees of Trade and Industry and Health," Garin said in her sponsorship speech.

"First, although the country is already experiencing a proliferation of sale and use of HTPs and vaping products among Filipino consumers, we do not have a clear and effective law and regulation, including product standards that should govern these products. Thus, through the passage of this bill, we fill this gap on regulation," she said.

Garin said the bill also aims to address the unintended or potential adverse consequences on the use of these products. "Thus, we have included in this bill, mechanisms on controlling safety risks and preventing youth uptake of all tobacco and nicotine products," she said.

"Finally, by recognizing the principle of harm reduction, we envision that this bill will contribute in the protection of public health, not only for the non-smokers but also for the current adult Filipino smokers," she said.

Covered by the measure are vapes with open tanks and closed systems with pods and the only HTP in the Philippines today IQOS from Philip Morris International. E-cigarettes heats liquid nicotine while IQOS heats real tobacco to release nicotine in vapor form.

In his own sponsorship speech, Garbin said tobacco harm reduction is a principle supported by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in the United Kingdom.  In 2007, the RCP reported that harm reduction is a fundamental component of many aspects of medicine and, indeed, everyday life, yet for some reason effective harm reduction principles have not been applied to tobacco smoking.

In 2016, the RCP released a report which discussed the public health opportunities of vaping (e-cigarettes) as part of tobacco harm reduction.

"Although it is not possible to precisely quantify the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes, the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5 percent of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure," the RCP said.

Garbin said that aside from the UK, other countries also embrace this view on nicotine and harm reduction. Former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced in one of his speeches that “nicotine is not directly responsible for the cancer, lung disease and heart disease that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year… it’s the other chemical compounds in tobacco, and in the smoke created by setting tobacco on fire, that directly and primarily cause the illness and death, not the nicotine.” 

"The governments of Canada and New Zealand has now also recognized the potential benefit smokers can gain when switching to vaping. Their decision to adopt such policies is anchored on decades of research on the subject of nicotine, e-cigarettes, tobacco and harm reduction," Garbin said.

Garin said HB 9007 was extensively discussed and debated by experts, scientists and other stakeholders.

"One very important lesson we learned from the Committee’s public hearings and the TWGs is that 'not all nicotine products are the same.' These novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products are substantially different, less harmful, and better than smoking cigarettes and therefore should be regulated differently and proportionately,” she said.

“In fact there are at least 32 independent local, international, renowned organizations that agree that vaping is far better than smoking," Garin added.

Garin said that as of 2020, 75 countries already have laws regulating the sale of vaping products.  About 36 countries were banning these products in 2020, down from 39 in 2018, with Norway the latest country to reverse its policy from a ban to regulation.

Garin assured that after listening to the concerns of public health advocates, especially on the issue of youth uptake, HB 9007 was designed to have provisions on minimum age and purchase, tamper-resistant and child resistant design; and proof of age verification.

It also has provisions on product communication restrictions, restrictions on vapor products and HTP promotions and ban on sponsorships. Additional provisions were made on public place use, standards for designated vaping areas and huge penalties for erring companies.

"Finally, there is also a provision providing for strict standards for the manufacturing of vaping products that industries should comply else face penalties," said Garin.

"We recognize that the entry of alternative products such as vapor products and HTPs in the market raises the need for regulation primarily in the interest of public welfare. Furthermore, on top of public health concerns, regulation is needed to balance factors such as revenue generation; trade and commerce; job creation; the protection of minors and non-smokers; public safety against sub-standard or malfunctioning products; the interest of tobacco farmers; the interest of industry; and the interests of all stakeholders who stand to be affected by the introduction of said category," she said.

"Thus, this bill when passed into law, will provide for a holistic regulatory framework for vapor products and HTPs that takes into consideration and balance the interests of the general public, along with the stakeholders most interested in their use and sale," said Garin.

The Senate is also deliberating on its own version of the bill.

Under existing laws, the sale and use of vapor products and HTPs are allowed in the Philippines, subject to excise taxes.  These laws include Republic Act No. 11347, RA 11467 and Executive Order No. 106.

On December 1, 2020, the Philippines Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Administrative Order No. 2020-0055 to implement these laws.  The full enforcement of AO 2020-0055 is on May 24, 2022.

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