Are we doing our job to regulate vapes?

Highlights from the Senate inquiry on the unregulated sale of vapes that target the youth (February 10, 2023)
Led by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, Chairperson, Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking

I. Opening statement

In today’s hearing, we’ll discuss the speech I delivered on February 6, 2023 calling for an investigation on the violation of the Vaporized Nicotine Regulation Act in relation to vape flavors and designs, which in particular are very attractive to the youth.

Joining us today is our Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Joel Villanueva, who even during the deliberations on the said measure, was very vocal about his concerns on the products that would be attractive to the youth, particularly the age, and the flavors.

Thank you, Majority Floor Leader, thank you for reiterating that provision of law to point out that there is clear violation [Section 12 of RA 1190, the Vape Law, which prohibits the sale of vapes that are packaged, labeled. presented, or marketed with flavor descriptors that unduly appeal to the youth]. Wala na siguro tayong kailangan pag-usapan, which is precisely why the Senate President, with your honor’s support, really pushed for the immediate adoption of that resolution, kasi wala na talagang dapat pag-usapan. Even if we were a court of law, we had the evidence.

But I’ll take off from where the Majority Floor Leader left off. Our honorable Majority Floor Leader read the provision of the law that very clearly considers a product as enticing to the youth when it uses fruits, desserts, or other descriptors which are known to be connected with children.

So as I was saying earlier, if this were a court of law, all you need to show is the evidence that there is such a product and it’s being sold, and therefore, we then prove that there is a violation of the law.

So I can now show some of these products. [Shows samples of vape products with fancy flavors] Na-alert ako nung sinabi ni [Majority Floor Leader Joel Villanueva]… parang he read my mind, but rest assured, everybody, we are not in cahoots. We just have the same concern. His honor mentioned dessert, right? And eksakto ang sample na andito na hawak ko, a Korean dessert, strawberry bingsu. So ito siya. And my staff told me that if you open it…it will already note the smell of it, which is very enticing.

Anyway, another example is watermelon cooler, so fruit. Hindi pa ba natin alam na prutas ito? Ayan, watermelon cooler. Kitang kita rin. And then for the accessories, hindi ko alam pero parang proud pa siya eh, yung tatak na “Made in the Philippines.” Para bang proudly made in the Philippines, which to me I am not proud about, but anyway it is what it is.

And then in terms of accessories…kung hindi pa ba attractive ito, ito ang accessories. Ito ang lalagyan. Meron siyang parang lanyard na pwede i-hang sa neck mo. and ang product covers niya are candy bars and a very well-known soft drink, di ba? So ayan. This is a sad state that we are in, colleagues. And the Majority Floor Leader looks like he is about to cry. Because this is the fate of our youth. Ito ang products in our market.

Just to put this on record because it was covered in my privilege speech…in 2012, we passed RA 10351, otherwise known as the Sin Tax Law, and this covered alcohol and cigarettes. And that is why in 2020, when I sponsored the new Sin Tax Reform Act, it now covered the new type of sin products, which is heated tobacco products and vapes… In 2020, Congress, the Senate in particular, had a debate, do we ban or do we not ban but we tax and regulate? And the decision was to tax and regulate. Thus, the Sin Tax Reform Act, because we would tax and regulate.

And that is the purpose of the hearing, to find out if we are actually doing our job of regulating. Fast forward, shortly after 2020, a new law was passed and this is the… Vape Law, RA 11900, which overturned three major provisions of the Sin Tax Reform Act. These 3 provisions are pegging the age at 21 years so that the youth really are protected beyond 18; FDA being the agency that would regulate these products; and third is limiting the flavors to menthol and tobacco flavor. I say that these 3 major provisions were overturned because in the Vape Law, the age changed from 21 to 18; jurisdiction to regulate was transferred to DTI; and there was a more permissive provision on flavors. So the focus of this hearing is really on the flavors.

And although I made it clear that the provision under the current law, which is the Vape Law, is more permissive, kasi dati, talagang ano lang, menthol and tobacco. So everything else is banned. And ngayon ang nangyari sa Vape Law, which I opposed, is they expanded the definition to include, basically allowed ang flavors with the exception of flavors that are attractive to the youth, and then may descriptors, like fruit flavors, cartoons, and other candies which obviously we would know are attractive to the youth. And now, ganun na nga ka-clear pa rin ang law, and we still have very, very clear violations.

There are now articles and studies, peer-reviewed studies that are saying that as many of the advocates have warned, be careful with claiming that these products are safer, because it may not be safer at all. It may even be worse. And there are now studies that are saying that there is more lung damage to the lungs of people who vape than cigarettes. And I’ll just cite those studies later on. And these are peer-reviewed studies, by the way. And there’s the alarm that has been sounded in the UK.

When I visited the UK specifically to study how they are approaching the handling of this novel product, which was vapes, they told me that they have, and this is just my own words, a slightly permissive take on it because they are not worried about the youth taking it up.. Because based on their data, they have been successful in stopping the youth from smoking. Therefore, the chances daw na mag-shift sa vapes yung naninigarilyong bata is very low kasi nga they have already succeeded in making smoking not attractive to the youth.

And the reason for this is because they have adopted many of the recommendations of the advocacy groups on stopping smoking. This includes no point of purchase display. So if you go into a retail store in London, which I did, I wanted to try to see how the cigarettes look and ecigs, walang point of purchase displayed doon. So nakakalimutan ko. So ganun ka-effective yun. You will not think of buying cigarettes kasi nakatago talaga. Only if you ask will it be shown to you.

And then, if I am not mistaken, they also have plain packaging, tama ba? Dr Yul is confirming. They have plain packaging. So balewala yung mga subtle and not subtle advertising ng iba’t ibang tobacco companies kasi nga plain packaging din lang naman. And so on and so forth, including of course yung specific educational campaign na ginawa nila for more than a decade. So successful sila.

Pero ngayon…three and a half years since I was there… now, I am reading reports that the UK is alarmed by the number of young people who have been hospitalized because of vaping. So hindi lang nagve-vape, naho-hospitalize pa. So I am sad for them because mali pala ang assumption nila na hindi magiging attractive sa bata kasi this industry works in a very devious way, and this is how they work.

Our hearing will be immortalized, thanks to Youtube and our media friends who cover it. And I want this to be something that people, anyone of any age, well of mature age can understand. Even teenagers. I want them to be able to understand this. So I always want to give a background and context to what we are discussing.


[DTI mentions violations of the vape Law that the agency has monitored; Sen Villanueva interjects]

Thank you, Majority Floor Leader. Actually, my questions are also along that line. Maybe we will get further clarity, and not confusion, when we ask these kinds of questions and then also listen to FDA kasi your last statement na, are our systems working, doon na lang tayo, di ba? Andaming paliwanag, which Asec [Ann Claire Cabochan, of DTI] is simply just telling us what they put in the rules and in the law, some of those things are not in the law. Rules na lang yun. Pero is it adding to bureaucracy?

Because for me, as a lawyer, I understand the concept of due process. But there is also the concept of plain danger. And law enforcements have the right to step in and protect people from danger. So I want to be able to validate these practices that we have with an eye towards either accepting it, that it’s going to be a slow process or recognizing that there is room for change if we really want to be able to protect our youth.

Kasi kapag sinabi mong binebenta sa harap ng schools, and that is one of the examples that Asec. gave. Are you telling me na pababayaan nating binebenta yan sa harap ng schools? Magbibigay pa tayo ng letter ng show cause, may x number of days, babalikan pa tayo, eh nakikita mo nang binebenta sa harap ng schools. Nakikita mo namang Korean dessert. May pinagkaiba pa ba yung Korean, American, Filipino dessert?..Watermelon cooler. May picture na ng watermelon, may pangalan pa ng watermelon. Ano pa ba yun? Atty Porciúncula? [Atty. Marimel Porciuncula, director of the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau of DTI] You’re from the DTI right? So are you prepared to address the concern raised by the Majority Floor Leader na, are our systems working? It might be working because you are telling me we are following the letter of the rules and the law. Pero patawarin. Yang teenager na yan o 12 years old na yan na in-attract nila, baka lolo na, by that time. Finollow nga nila yung letter of the rules and letter of the laws, but we created too many processes that we are not able to save the youth. So that’s my question, that’s our question.

There you go. Have you confiscated, Asec? Have you confiscated? Then why not? Why not? Ni-report niyo sa amin, and I took note of it, you have 16 show-cause orders. May I know if these 16 include yung selling near the schools? Kasi yun yun, yung in-explain mo that these are the types of violations, I am not sure if you meant these are the violations defined by law or violations that were actually seen by your law enforcements. They have been seen. So may violations na selling near the school, may violations na may descriptors, katulad niyang watermelon… tapos selling without graphic health warning… point of sale, what about point of sale?


The required statements at point of sale na they cannot sell to minors, etc. So you found it, so paano, picture-taking tapos submission? Tapos show-cause? Mismong lawyer niyo ang nagsasabing you have the power to confiscate. Parang kulang naman sa briefing ang law enforcement niyo.


For the record, pinunas-punasan na ni MFL ang mukha niya. Kung ginawa ko yun tanggal na lahat ng makeup ko, okay? That is a sign. I have to put that on record because that is a sign of frustration. Wala na kaming magawa dahil kami naman ay disenteng senador, hindi kami nagmumura dito, nagpipilit kaming hindi magtaas ng boses. So hanggang ganyan na lang kami, nagpipigil na lang kami ng mukha namin. My God. Lord. Sorry, my mom gets mad at me if she hears me… “My God.” Because do not call the name of the Lord in vain. But I am not calling the Lord’s name in vain. I am actually calling out to the Lord for guidance because hindi ko na alam yung gagawin ko. If you are telling me, which you seem to be about to tell me, Asec. Ann… that your administrative order stated blah, blah, blah. Eh kayo ang nagsulat noon eh. Hindi naman ganun ang batas na ginawa namin. Masama na nga ang batas na ginawa namin, lalong pinasama pa ng admin order na nilagyan ng sangkatutak na requirements. Samantalang your lawyer is telling us that you have the right to confiscate.

[Sen Villanueva]

Thank you. So that’s very clear. Ang kagandahan naman ng batas na ito, which I already considered watered down, we were still able to make sufficient interventions that clearly define what are violations. Wala tayong… hindi vague yun. We said flavors named as desserts, as fruits, that are attractive to kids. And these are what we consider attractive to kids kasi baka subject pa to discussion what are attractive to kids, kaya sinabi natin doon, cartoons, desserts… fruits. Yun na nga. Violation na nga siya. Violation na talaga siya.

Anyway, like I said, I will give Atty Porciuncula of DTI and Asec. Cabochan an opportunity to talk… But in the meantime, before I give the floor to FDA, I want to educate all of us, okay? Let’s all be educated. Even I continue to be educated, I need to research, I need to ask my team, what is the latest jurisprudence.

On the plain view doctrine, which is a case in 2019, Argana vs. People, this is the doctrine: law enforcement officers in search of evidence when he is in a position from which he can view a particular area… oh di syempre kung tindahan yan at andoon ka naman nakapasok, it’s a public store, lahat naman pwedeng pumasok, so siya ay nasa isang posisyon para ma-view niya, makita niya kung ano ang binebenta doon… Number two, discovery of the evidence in plain view, is inadvertent, hindi nangkalkal, hindi naman pumasok sa bodega nila kung ano mang lugar, mag-open ng drawers, ng cabinet; it’s in plain view, pagtingin mo andoon; and third, it is immediately apparent that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise, subject to… seizure, hindi pa ba crime yun? Hindi pa ba contraband yun or subject to seizure? Ano pa ba?

Now if these don’t happen to be in plain view then I understand, di ba? I don’t know, there are products that are really not in plain view, you have to enter, you have to open up. Eh plain view nga. So allow me to educate all of us, this is the plain view doctrine. Your rules do not have the power of law if there is a law and jurisprudence that is very clear. Balewala ang rules niyo.

I will move to FDA and think about what you are saying to me because I am not happy with what I am hearing from DTI…


Can I remind all the secretaries and heads of agencies that if you send your subordinate, it is usually acceptable but common courtesy, let my office know so that if I have a question, if I’d like to say hello to you, if I’d like to direct my question to you, you can let me know… Ang DG ng FDA hindi man lang nag-abalang magsabi sa akin na hindi siya makakapunta. Nagtanong pa ako off the record earlier hindi niyo rin alam kung bakit wala siya. Ngayon niyo lang nalaman dahil sinabi kong alamin niyo… Hindi kasalanan ng subordinates yun, kasalanan ng principal yun.


Yung cosmetics ire-register sa inyo right? And from my understanding because I was a practitioner in FDA, nandyan ako madalas baka grade school pa lang kayo noon. That was my first job, one of my first tasks in the law office that I worked with, to assist our clients in getting their products registered so I am quite familiar with the process. May checklist yun di ba? And over the years, we have institutionalized and internationalized our practice such that when you get a report that’s validated already in another FDA, particularly syempre kung yung FDA na kinikilala ng maayos, let’s say US product, that is just basically documentary na lang ang process nun, right? You will not conduct your testing, let the records show that Ms Cabrido [Division chief, Ofelyn Cabrido of the Center for Cosmetics and Household Urban Hazardous Substances Regulation and Research of FDA] is nodding her head… So basta ma-submit nila lahat yun, wala na kayong testing na gagawin because you take at face value na ang ibang FDA that had ruled upon this did their job. Correct?


Sabi mo nga you are governed by the ASEAN cosmetic directive…It’s not that they are not being regulated, but because of that agreement, you recognize that they have gone through the process in another country, that’s why notification, correct? So there is still a process that gives you the confidence na dumaan na sa proseso ito. So if it’s a contact lens, that go in the eyes; a moisturizer, facial cream that go on the face; deodorant that goes under a person’s arm, you are notified, correct?

So normally, with a product, and I am going now to the vapes, if you will recall the position that this representation has taken, same with the MFL, a product as defined by the FDA Law should be registered with the FDA if it is harmful and it could potentially cause, or have an effect on one’s health. It has a claim that it has a good effect? Therefore, register it. It doesn’t have any claims but from your own knowledge, from the wealth of knowledge that we have, it will be exposed to our body parts, then it has a health effect and therefore must go through some kind of process within the FDA, correct?

So ang nangyari dito sa vapes na ini-inhale… sinisinghot o nilalanghap… yun nga ang pinaglalaban natin na kaya nga sa Sin Tax Law, sinabi natin na FDA will regulate, walang issue, done. Tapos dito sa bagong batas na ito, binaliktad, sinabi na DTI… Ibalik natin ang tanong, so paano niyo nache-check yun na ang nilalanghap nila, paano niyo nache-check yun? Because I will reiterate, and sinabi rin ito ni MFL when I delivered my speech, in the US FDA, more than 55,000 flavors were rejected kasi… hindi nga daw pumapasa sa standard… Hindi yan pumasa sa FDA, and here we are, our FDA has no authority to look into it based on the law, this bulok na law na napasa, it’s with DTI… Let’s ask them how they are checking on that…

So just to be clear, yung sa 55,000 flavors that were rejected by the US FDA, the marketing application for these 55,000 flavors were rejected for failure to provide evidence that they appropriately protect public health. Hindi sila na-reject dahil lang hindi sila nakakasakit, but they appropriately do not protect public health. Bagsak sila doon. So I will ask DTI later on… how they are able to do that because from what I know, kayo ang may competence to do that. And you have the confidence to do that? May I hear the answer for that?


I am tempted to mention all the other things that we are working on together, which sadly negates, takes away from the time that we have to spend on problems like this because we are working nga towards more protection of health and yet here we are needing to take valuable time, the time of the honorable Usec, the time of DOH, FDA, the time actually also of DTI na marami ring pino-problema sa ibang aspect ng trade and industry, because certain sectors cannot even self-regulate and cannot even do their part in protecting the youth. Talaga namang tinarget pa ang youth. I don’t think there is any question there.

[Sen Villanueva; DOH]

I will give the floor to Dr Yul Dorotheo, he is the Executive Director of Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. We have been working together for more than a decade already. Talagang expert. He can recite the facts to us in his sleep about nicotine addiction and the like… and we have our youth representatives pa. Sen. Alan [Cayetano] is also online…

I wanted to take off very quickly from what Dr. Beverly Ho [DOH Undersecretary] said. She was describing in layman’s terms what is an addiction. Sen Joel and I both have young kids. My son is 12, around the same age as your two kids din. Hindi nagkakalayo. I was telling my son about my latest privilege speech on vapes. I was just trying to see kung naaalala niya ang discussion ko with him in the past years. Kasi nag-umpisa yan he was 8-9. And he is now 12… I was just curious kung nagegets niya ang point ko. So this was over dinner with my two older daughters and my 12 y/o son. And I said this was my speech, about vapes which is very dangerous, it’s bad for you and it becomes addictive. And I said do you know about it and do you have friends who are doing this? Do you know it’s bad for you? And my son’s answer was this: Mom, do you think I am dumb? And I was like, no I don’t think you are dumb, precisely why I was asking you if you understand the topic because you are old enough to understand. Then he repeated, do you think I’m dumb? And I said no. And he said, why do you have to ask me that? And then I said, you know what it’s this golden age where they listen to their parents pa. Na kung sinabi kong bad yan for him, bad yan… But we do know from history, from time immemorial… that at some point, you start listening to what your friends are saying, you start getting more attracted to what is out there, what is attractive to you, and isn’t that precisely the nature of what addiction can be? The problems it can give us? Kasi in your head, you know that it’s bad. You know it’s not good for you. Alam mo na, narinig mo na sa parents, teachers, doctor. Bakit mo pa ginawa? Peer pressure and eventually, you get addicted.

[Dr Yul Dorotheo]

For the record, Sen. Jinggoy [Estrada] also mentioned that he wanted to make sure that the graphic health warning is also covered. We covered that in the law and therefore, DTI should cover that in everything, in all the violations that are being monitored.

[Dr Dorotheo]

In the same way that DTI laid out to us the process that they go through, which made me realize na wow, ang haba ng prosesong yan, hindi man lang kayo nagko-confiscate. And kayo, I wanted to ask you for examples because I know for a fact na nagko-confiscate kayo kapag mga plain view din… And let the record show that the 3 representatives of FDA are all nodding their head… Ngayon ewan ko sa inyo DTI kung bakit hindi kayo nakakapag-confiscate…

[Dr Dorotheo]

Ewan ko pero ang proponents ng batas na ito ginawa nila lahat na DTI, so paano kapag tumawag sa inyo? Sasaklolohin niyo ang namamatay na? Binigay nila sa inyo lahat. Jurisdiction din sa inyo rin. So ewan ko kapag may tumawag, tell me later on how you intend to handle that. Because there are reported cases, as I’ve said, and I will read on record later on. Sa UK pa lang nagaalala sila sa dami ng youth na naoospital…

[AER; Youth for Sin Tax, PH College of Chest Physicians]

I’ll take off from what you said. I think it was in the form of a question to Usec. Beverly Ho on the data available. And I am sure it’s DOH who can put into action this concern that we both have. How do we disseminate this to all levels of healthcare? For us to get the data, ang kwinento niyong case clearly, nakarating siya sa specialist who was able to document that properly and diagnose it properly. But how many cases like this are diagnosed in the barangay health center, in a primary healthcare center? So I’d like to know from DOH what protocols do we have in place. Just like disease reporting, it just so happens that my team and I are also handling the drafting of the bill on the CDC… So I know the language that is contained in that bill, on the reporting of the diseases, on the cascading of information. But I’d like to know na until the CDC is in place, kasama ba itong pagmo-monitor ng EVALI ailment… or is it something we still have to do?


So paano? In FDA, it’s embedded in their system that when you register, the registration certification that they give also has responsibilities on the side of recipients, and that includes reporting of adverse effects. May ganyan kayo?

So for the record, everyone, the entire Philippine population, kung ang jurisdiction ba ay naiwan sa FDA, wala na tayong time na we are still putting together, crafting the guidelines, kasi may guidelines na sila, andoon na yun. They’ve been doing it ever since we had an FDA, which by the way was called BFAD in my time, and it was also during my time in 2009 when we changed BFAD’s name to FDA, not just a change of name, but also strengthening of the functions of FDA. So for the record, all of this… we would not have had to go to this process of, we’re still waiting, we’re still doing it, because it would have been automatic with FDA because it is really what they do, sadly, inako ng DTI because of the law passed by Congress, which I objected to, gave the jurisdiction to you…


Kailan tayo magkaka-registration? In the meantime, wala tayong registration? For the record din, the Sin Tax Law that would have come into effect, minadali ng mga pro-vaper and senators and members of Congress, minadali nila yun kasi magka-come into effect na ang Sin Tax Law that would have required registration, and that’s why they were in a hurry to pass this other law that would remove the jurisdiction para hindi pa rin sila nag-register and hindi pa rin sila nag-comply. So ganyan ang lobby ng mga sin products dito sa Pilipinas. Ganyan kaawa-awa ang sitwasyon natin. Anyway…

For the record… nagkaroon ng transitory period na rin sa Sin Tax… They had 18 months na. Tapos minadali itong bagong law, kasi yung 18 months kulang pa sa kanila. Gusto pa nilang madagdagan. Ganyan talaga ang industry na ayaw magpa-regulate. Just letting you know. I know you are just trying to implement it. But I need the Filipino people to know that this is how thess industries who do not want to be regulated, who do not care if people will die, if young people get addicted, they don’t care and they just want to go on and on unregulated, pretending that they want to be regulated but they don’t.


But what is your business when you don’t know… To my knowledge, the mandate of DTI has not changed. You have nothing to do and you have no expertise in health. So how in the world are you going about changing, modifying, or creating that standard? Saan ang doktor? May dala ba kayong doktor? Eh paano? So how are you creating these standards? Saan niyo hinuhugot yun?

And their expertise is on products that are harmful to health, particularly lung health? And brain health?


Sige give me the name of the people in the technical committee, their names, profile, and any expertise that they have. Because clearly, I think we have enough information, you can also do your own research naman, Asec. This is a product that can kill, that can create a generation of addicts. And I would think it is incumbent upon you, coming here to my Senate hearing, to ensure that what you are reporting to me in your own conscience also, is acceptable.

So I am so confused how in your human brain, kaya niyo to assure us that you are here to protect Filipino health, when your mandate and your name itself is the Department of Trade and Industry. It’s not about you personally. It is just about my ongoing confusing with this whole situation. Kayo estudyante, nung estudyante ako, ang assignment natin, what is DOH? Dept. of Health, what does it do? What is DTI, trade and industry? What does it do? Saan nakasulat doon na involved and obligasyon nila to protect health? And if I look at the roster, can you tell me now na andyan na ang expertise niyo sa health? Nagkaroon ba ever since we created this law?


But if they don’t say anything, they don’t claim any risk reduction, they don’t claim any health benefit, pero ito na naga-attract na ng youth. The President from the PH College of Chest Physicians says there are already reported cases of EVALI [E-cigarette or Vaping use-Associated Lung Injury]. And you already said for the record, you do not have the health expertise. So paano? How would you register? You’re registering them on what basis? The basis that they are a P5-B company, a P5-M company? What is the basis? And katulad ng binigay nilang example ng cosmetics, they have a notification from another country that tells them na dumaan ito sa process. May ganoon? That’s why I wanted to know and in the next hearing or TWG kindly present these people from your Bureau of Standards, that you are telling me are the ones who determine what are the standards that you are now following. Because I don’t know if your Bureau of Standards has any health expertise to determine, like I told you, 55,000 flavors in the US were rejected by the FDA. Tell me how you will do that. And while you are waiting to put together all your rules and the time you need to put together your processing, how many will die, how many will get addicted? But let the records show that you already said that you do not have the health expertise. I will repeat. What is the DTI mandate from the time I have started questioning DTI. This is what I know it to be. Correct me if I am wrong: responsible for realizing the country’s goal of globally competitive and innovative industry and services sector that contribute to inclusive growth and employment generation. Saan diyan ang health? Wala di ba? That’s why you answered the way you answered. So I am sorry if I seem very frustrated. But I am very frustrated.

I thank you for being participative and candid with your responses. My frustration is not directed at you personally. It’s just directed at this terrible situation that we find ourselves in. Pretty much, para mo na rin sinabi na the law was created, binigay sa inyo, wala ka namang choice kundi gampanan ang sinabi ng batas na gampanan niyo. Pero wala nga kayong expertise in that field. And for such a dangerous product, which can cause immediate illnesses in young and older people, nakakagulat lang that it is now in your hands.

I would also like to point out to anyone… I just want to emphasize that in a recent report… from a news article, Business World, this was dated not even a year ago, three months ago, October 24, Business World reports: DTI seizes uncertified products in Pampanga and Paranaque City. So I went through it quickly and these products are construction materials and automotive vehicles, including tires… Nakakatuwa pero nakakagulat na ang construction materials and tires for vehicles, gulong, pwede ma-confiscate, pero ang produkto na makakamatay ng bata, hindi niyo kino-confiscate. And I know this is probably not in your jurisdiction, there is another agency that handles. CDs and DVDs, kino-confiscate. Pero itong mga ecigs na clearly violating the law, I don’t think there is anyone here, and kindly raise your hand if you object, I think everyone here agrees. The law is very clear. E-cigarettes and vapes that are targeting young people… particularly those that have fruits, cartoons, desserts, candies, are prohibited… Tapos yung DVDs, gulong ng kotse pwede ma-confiscate. Ito, hindi kino-confiscate. So I think that’s very clear. Earlier, I read in the record, the latest Supreme Court jurisprudence on the plain view doctrine. So I hope you take this well. May I request that you work with DILG. isang kalabit lang naman yan sa mga mayor, sabihin niyo sa mga mayor na before you have another epidemic on hand, of addicted young people, ano ba naman yung you ask the mayors to ask their health officers, to ask whoever to go around, even the parent-teachers association to check what stores that are within 100 meters… kung nagbebenta nun, di bawal. Sinabi niyo you found, paano paisa-isa tayo? So talk to DILG… Isama niyo na yan sa request niyo. Isang tingin lang naman nila they will know that there are violations. I can tell you for a fact that in Taguig City, I can ask their mayor, and so many other friends all over the [country] na tingnan niyo nga ito, and right away, they will act. Pwede nila i-revoke ang business permit because they are selling products that are illegal. Correct? Am I wrong? Andali naman gawin pero yun nga, I know you have a lot of work but this is as important, if not more important than other products. Because this will create an epidemic of addicted and probably lung damaged children. Okay? So let me know in the next hearing what you have done about it because I am just really very concerned. Hay nako. Anyway…

[Dr Dorotheo]

In the UK, I was there when they informed me that they are not really worried about the youth and here we are 3-4 years after we had that conversation… I am reading the report that they are now alarmed with the number of youth that are addicted and have actually been hospitalized due to EVALI.

[Dr Dorotheo]

This is not the end, obviously, this is just the beginning for the 19th Congress. We just hope to be able to work with everyone, all the concerned sectors, including DTI, of course, to come up with suggestions and possible amendments to the law that will be truly reflective of the protective measures that we want to see, not just for the youth but for the entire Filipino people.

This hearing will be suspended. We will digest all the materials that we have. We have requested further materials from DTI… We probably will have another hearing or a TWG. Thank you everyone for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. Salamat and be safe for the rest of the day and the week. Happy Valentines. #

Expressing her frustration over the proliferation of vape products and flavors that target the youth, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said that this current situation resulted from the removal of three key provisions in the Sin Tax Law by the Vape Law, including: lowering the age of access to vapes from 21 to 18; transferring regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Trade Industry (DTI); and easing the restrictions on allowed vape flavors. Cayetano also called to task the DTI for not confiscating flavored vapes, and those sold near schools, even if these clearly violate the watered down provisions of the Vape Law.


Our fight for health continues

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
•Principal co-sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair
•Principal sponsor, Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means chair

Good evening, warm greetings to all of you. Of course, [former health secretary Enrique Ona], it’s so nice to see you. Everyone here. Hindi ko na kayo iisa-isahin. My partner in crime, my partner in healthcare, Sen. JV [Ejercito]. It’s so hard to work without partners. I can’t mention all of you but truly I am very happy to be here.

Of course, [Dr. Tony Dans], during the pandemic. Kaibigan ko si Tony because ang youngest sister niya is my teammate in UP Volleyball. Hindi kami close, yung kapatid niya ang close ko, pero naging close na kami dahil sa pandemic because of all the things that we had to discuss.

Anyway, I just have a few minutes, it’s very difficult for me to decide what to cut. Well, my journey started maybe when I became a senator in 2004. But, just a raise of hands, who was not part of this before 2012? Who wasn’t around during 2012? Because ia-eye-to-eye ko kayo, para marinig niyo yung kwento. Yun lang naman yun.

Okay, so there are a handful of people here who don’t know the journey and I’m speaking to the choir to those, many of you, who have been around and have heard it, but bear with me.

So in 2012 was my first major victory with a health bill that was, I can’t think of any other word, I’m sorry for the foreigners, but the Filipino word is “masalimuot.” It was so deep, so heavy, so intricate. It was so difficult, right? Masalimuot. It was very difficult to pass the [Sin Tax Law of 2012]. I mean, by then, I’ve been a senator for a few years, I have passed many other bills, but this was a difficult bill.

And I won’t go into details, but I told Tony that these stories have to be told. The committee report that came out for this 2012 Sin Tax Bill was rubbish. And this is me na hindi nagmumura in public. It was rubbish. And so then Senate President Franklin Drilon, had to…when you’re Senate President, you stay on the…JV, anong tawag dun kapag nandoon ka sa taas? Podium. [Senate President Drilon] had to go down and basically chair this committee because he had to change the committee report [which] was rubbish. It was a joke. And the thing is, what you have to understand is it is so easy to fool people if you will simply say, you raised taxes for [public] health. Everybody who loves health, “Oh, thank you ang bait niyo.” But it’s a joke. They raised it at such an amount that was not even up to par with inflation.

And this happened again, by the way, when I was in the House, right? When I was in the House, they passed the – tumatawa si JV – he was in the Senate, I was in the House, they passed a bill that increased the taxes on tobacco. It was a joke. I stood up and said, excuse me…kasi sa House sa dami naman ng tao, they really cannot accommodate everyone to speak. And I felt like I was a dead grasshopper about to be eaten by a swarm of ants, red angry ants. When I stood up, parang, “Sino ka to stand up when we’re about to pass this bill?” I’m talking about the tax bill… I was in the House between 2016, 17, 18. So somewhere there, around that time. And a swarm of ants telling me that I had no right to talk about this bill. But in fact, I had a right because that was an amendment to the 2012 Sin Tax Bill. And so I said my piece and what else could I do, I got outvoted, okay?

So 2012, I would say my journey started. But while I was writing my notes in the car, I had to tell myself that, “you know what, it’s not correct for me to say that journey started…” I’m simply saying I passed that difficult bill.

My journey started when I was a child. My mom is alive, she’s a living angel, kind-hearted, she’s a teacher, may puso ng isang teacher. My dad was very strict, he did not smoke and did not drink, and he walked the talk. So many kids grew up in an environment where they are told not to do one thing, and yet the people around them are all doing those things. I was blessed to be brought up in a home na kung bawal yan, bawal din sa parents ko. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke. So unless my brothers decide to take up smoking in their 40’s and 50’s, wala talagang naninigarilyo sa amin. And that is because of the family we were raised in. So that journey started then.

And this is the message I want everyone to hear who has children, grandchildren, pamangkins – it starts with the environment.

So here I am, as you know, I was a passionate runner, triathlete. I still run but I have a new passion, it’s called padel, P-A-D-E-L. You can look it up, that’s my new sport. I would run all over the country, the races would start at 4 AM, 5 AM, so as daylight breaks, people would come out of the house. This is all over the country, wherever. And then people would come out of the house and there’s going to be a man holding a baby, siguro ang asawa niya nagluluto. He’s holding a baby and holding a cigarette. I’ve seen that so often and that smoke is going to this baby’s face. And I’m running, here I am, I have that privilege of being healthy. Hindi ako kinarga na may sigarilyo sa mukha ko. Not only that, I was told not to smoke and yet here, there are children, they can’t even breathe in their own homes.

So that’s a privilege. A privilege I appreciate and I hope we can create for more people. And we have. We have created that. Why? Because my daughters who just graduated the last few years, one during the pandemic, the other, two years before the pandemic. All of them and their friends, they don’t smoke. So I am not saying this because, “yay magaling akong parent.” No, it’s not me. My generation of parents, their kids mostly, at least in the environment where these kids were brought up, they don’t smoke.

Alas, comes the new product, the e-cigarettes. Some of them, not my kids, because over my dead body, but no, they’re not interested and they have been educated about the ills of this thing.

So anyway, fast forward, actually my first introduction to sin products was the Graphic Health Warning Bill. We had a photo together [back in 2007] when you [Dra. Maricar Limpin] presented it [draft Graphic Health Warning Bill] to me. So yung mga lumalapit sa akin nagpe-present, magpa-picture na tayo habang nagpe-present di ba? Kasi years from now, it’s so nice to look back to see, wow we documented that.

And then I have these amazing photos with these kids [during the sponsorship of the Graphic Health Warning Bill, first in 2008, when they were still kids, and six years later in 2014, when the kids were already young adults]. Look at them, di ba? Look at them. I should have another picture with that group. Doon na sa plain packaging [bill] sila naman din. Siguro may anak na sila by the time na mapasa natin.

So there’s a deep history in all of this and what I wanted to say was there are stories to be told. So when I mentioned the story about then Senate President Frank Drilon having to take up the defense of a new bill altogether – by the way, he didn’t just take it up – he had to rewrite the whole bill because the bill that was presented to the Senate was a joke. And by the way, for the young people, nag-uumpisa pa lang ang social media noon. So the pressure that was put upon the sponsor of that bill was done through the brick and mortar, regular media, people who, well mostly the doctors, DOH people who said, “Hindi talaga kami papayag dito.” That’s how that happened. And then Sen. Drilon asked me to be the one to review the health aspect as he took care of the taxation aspect. So alam niyo na yan, pumasa na yan [Sin Tax Bill] 2012.

And then, interestingly, when I went back to the Senate after I won my seat in 2019, then Senate President Tito Sotto asked me to be the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. So in the earlier days, when I got involved in Sin Tax, that was because I was the Chairperson of the Committee on Health, and that’s how I ended up working with you and your team, Sec. Ona. So ngayon naman, I was asked to be Committee on Ways and Means [Chairperson]. And I’m a graduate of the UP School of Economics, taxation was very interesting for me, but it wasn’t really my practice, and I’d like to be good at what I do. So I was like, “eh, not so interested.” And then [Speaker Alan Cayetano] separately told me that Sec. Sonny Dominguez really, really wanted to work with me. Talaga? Nakakatuwa naman, di ba? Somebody tells you, somebody you look up to, really, really wants to work with me. Sabi ko, ano ba agenda? Sin Tax. Ay, hindi na ako maka-hindi. Kasi Sin Tax talaga, that’s really the reason I said yes to handling Ways and Means.

And as a mother, I feel very strongly about using the full force of government to help address this crisis. Not just health advocacy, but through using the power of taxation.

So long story short, we did that, we got it done [passage of the Sin Tax Law of 2020]. I was so happy because during the last few days, the final bill.. JV, of course you only heard of this lang by kwento, but naiyakan na kita niyan, di ba, yung mga nangyari? We were so happy because we were able to put in provisions on the [Food and Drug Administration] having the regulatory powers, age 21 [as minimum age of access to vape products], and the limitation of the flavors. Basically, walang flavor, di ba? Can you imagine? We were so happy.

What I want all of you to know is this, you see me and JV here, we are passionate health advocates. But like you were saying, Tony, many people don’t know the role of legislators here, right? And we appreciate being here. That’s why from Cebu bumalik talaga ako because I want to be part of this celebration.

But this is also what happened. During the bicameral conference [on the Sin Tax Bill], which is where the House and the Senate meet to reconcile, ibang iba ang version namin, mas mataas ang tax namin. Alam niyo yun, mas mataas ang tax namin because pinaglaban ko yun, mas mataas pa ang version ko kaysa sa Department of Finance. And Tito Sonny said, “Wow, okay. Okay sa amin yan.” Anyway, some of my colleagues felt hindi raw ako grounded, lumulutang daw ako, hindi ko raw alam yung nangyayari. Sabi ko, hindi, alam ko ang nangyayari, ayaw niyong taasan ang taxes, gusto niyo diktahan kayo ng industry. We’re one of the lowest pa rin in the region. Hindi ba, yun lang naman ang sa akin. Ina-align ko lang naman.

Anyway, ang kwento ko is this. What happened in the bicam, which was the inclusion of those three provisions I made, these would not be possible without the instructions and the support of my brother, then Speaker Alan Cayetano. You think of me as your health advocate, but my brother is the strategist. Because you know naman how it works, for those of you who worked with the House. Hindi niyo magagawa yan kung wala ang Speaker. Kung diktahan ng Speaker na, “ayaw ko nyan,” wala, hindi mangyayari yun. So I want Alan to get due recognition for this kasi kahit anong sabihin ko, and some of my colleagues, as you know, kayo na lang magbulungan, some of you don’t know, some of my colleagues are downright tobacco supporters. They were with me in the bicam. How could we have made it happen? Because my brother was the Speaker. That’s the simple truth.

So I move on. Barely a few months later, hindi na Speaker si Alan, and guess what? The House, pinaandar na nila yung, ano bang pangalan nun? Vapes, e-cigs regulation bill. Kay Alan, bantay yun. Ako ate di ba? So I can say, “Al, huwag na huwag mong ipapagalaw yan, ha?” So hindi gumalaw yun. Pero noong hindi na siya Speaker, ayun na, naging bill na, pumasa na yan sa House. And then sa Senate, pinabantayan ko, ano nangyari? JV, wala ka kasi doon. Ikaw talaga.

So the rest is history. One of the loneliest days of my life is having to oppose that bill from my house. Kasi I had the opportunity to attend an international conference, the first, this was 2021 November. Tapos ano ang variant na lumabas noon? [referring to the Delta variant] Nasa conference ako, hindi naka-mask ang mga tao doon.. so pagbalik ko, humaba ang quarantine, hindi ako nakapunta sa Senate to defend my position in person. I defended it from my house, without staff, without lawyers in front me. Kaya ko yun, pikit-mata kaya ko yun, alam niyo yun. But iba pa rin ang human warmth, yung support, which you always gave me in person.

It is what it is. Talo. But you know what, there’s a reason for everything. Kumbaga sa basketball, we just lost a quarter, or we lost a game. May second round pa yan, may championship pa yan, di ba? We’re in it for the long run.

So I end with my gratitude to all of you. We all have a role to play. Every role is important. Even my daughters, your kids. When my daughters repost what I post, it means something to me, because that means they understand my fight. And all the little things we each do.

Anyway, I want to end with two quick things. Our representative from the youth mentioned smoke-free something, right? Exactly the same term? Anyway… Philippine smoke-free movement. Thank you. But the largest tobacco companies call their move a ‘smoke-free’ move. So now, every time somebody messages me, “We are advocates for smoke-free,” teka muna, anong klaseng smoke-free kayo? You know? So I think we have to be creative here because that is the panloloko na ginagawa nila. Eh ano pa magagawa natin? Eh di call it out. That cannot be. I don’t know if you can bring that to court. Obviously, in this gathering, we know what we mean. But can you imagine if somebody called me and I didn’t check, and I told my staff, “Sige tulungan niyo yan.” Buti na lang my staff is also aware of this misuse of that term. Deliberately confusing use of that term. So that’s something.

So I had to tell my sister-in-law, [Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano], at the time si [then Mayor Lino Cayetano], “Oy, ingatan niyo yan may lalapit sa inyo, may ibibigay pang ordinance.” You know that, right? May bitbit silang ordinance, ibibigay nila sa munisipyo, sa mga cities, smoke-free. May ganun. On its face naman, kahit alam ng lahat ng konsehal na ito ang advocacy ni Sen. Pia Cayetano, and they are in full support, at a glance, they think it’s a good thing. So we have to be very, very vigilant about it.

So that is, I think, what I wanted to remind everyone of. And finally, in New Zealand, parang every kid who was born a certain year, they will never touch a cigarette. What a dream, di ba? So saan na tayo doon? Every kid will have a chance to use an e-cigarette in this country kasi dadalhin na sa sari-sari store. What’s our narrative? What do we want? So there, that’s the thought I want to leave with everyone, those challenges that we have.

And on that note, again, thank you so much to everyone. Keep up the good work, I am honored to be in the company of each one of you. #

*Speech at the ‘Atin ang Sin Tax: 10 Years of Unity for Health’ (January 20, 2023)


Atin Ito Sin Tax
Senator Pia S. Cayetano joins a gathering of health advocates for the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law. With her are Dra. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the FCTC Alliance Philippines or FCAP, and Dr. Yul Dorotheo, executive director, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance or SEATCA. Cayetano co-sponsored the Sin Tax Law of 2012 (RA 10351) as Senate health committee chair, and the Sin Tax Law of 2020 (RA 11467) as Senate ways and means committee chair.
Senator Pia S. Cayetano receives a commendation from the Sin Tax Coalition for her efforts in leading the fight to tax harmful vices and channeling its proceeds to improve the public health system.
Speaking at an event marking the 10th year of the Sin Tax Law, Senator Pia S. Cayetano said the fight for health continues, especially for our children and the youth.
Senator Pia Cayetano with fellow health advocates (L-R): Dra. Maricar Limpin, Dr. Antonio Dans, and Dra. Leonila Dans.