March 17, 2022- The Department of Education (DepEd) is one with the Department of Health (DOH) and medical organizations in appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act approved by the Senate on third and final reading last December 2021.
As a government institution championing young Filipinos’ well-being, we are taking a stand against the so-called “anti-health” vape bill, which will weaken existing law and the executive order against Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS) commonly known as e-cigarettes or “vapes.”
If passed into law, the bill will erode the important provisions already set forth in Republic Act No. 11467 and Executive Order No. 106 both signed by the President in 2020. The law and the executive order already regulate electronic nicotine/non-nicotine delivery systems, heated tobacco products, and other novel tobacco items.
In particular, the bill will lower the access restriction age from 21—as currently set by RA 11467 and EO 106—to 18 years old.
For School Year 2020-2021, at least 870,000 learners in the basic education sector were 18 years old, according to DepEd’s information system, while close to 1.1 million learners in senior high school were 18 to 20 years old. This is the number of learners who will become legally allowed to be marketed the harmful products once the bill becomes law.
We teach in schools how the part of the brain that is responsible for rational decisions does not fully develop until one is in their mid-twenties. Before that age, young people are very vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviors such as substance use and abuse. If there will be any attempt to amend existing laws, it should be to increase the age of access to harmful products, not lower it.
The bill also permits online sales, and allows flavors other than plain tobacco and menthol, the only two flavors currently allowed by law. Further, the bill is positioned to “reduce the harm caused by smoking.”
In contrast, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that “ENDS are undoubtedly harmful,” and that flavors appealing to children and advertising through social media platforms are among the tactics employed by tobacco and related industries to attract younger generations.
This is of great concern for us in DepEd. A study conducted by the Philippine Pediatric Society among our Grades 7-9 DepEd learners revealed that 6.7% “have tried and are using e-cigarettes,” and that the top reasons for vape use among our learners were online accessibility (32%), varied flavors (22%), and the belief that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco (17%).
The bill also transfers the regulation of the products from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade and Industry. We believe that the FDA is in the best position to regulate the harmful products, consistent with evolving medical and scientific studies, as currently expressed in RA 11467.
As we continue to implement a comprehensive tobacco control program in schools to safeguard the health of learners, DepEd is hopeful that our leaders and legislators will constantly champion a healthy lifestyle among our youth.