Transcript of interview with Senator Pia Cayetano on President Duterte’s directive to ‘ban’ e-cigarettes
Question (Q): What happens to the sin tax bill following the order of the President to ban vapes?
Sen. Pia: The way I look at it is my work continues. Because our President has really just expressed – from my understanding – his disappointment and exasperation with the e-cig industry. And that’s why he made that statement na “i-ban na yan.”
Because actually, all this time, he was waiting for all of us to do our job. And my job is to use taxation as a tool to protect the citizens, and of course, there’s also a fundraising measure as far as DOF is concerned.
But we have to understand the background. The background is, DOH issued an Administrative Order regulating e-cigarettes. And they said it in my hearing, they said it in consultations na ayaw ng mga industry ang AO na yan. The industry players said that they were not happy with that AO.
In fairness, there were also some industry players who said that they are happy to be regulated. Meanwhile, some of these people went ahead and filed cases to prevent FDA and DOH to regulate them. And these courts issued a TRO. So ngayon, we have products that are clearly harmful to the public [that are not being regulated]. We can debate and we can discuss it longer. But there is no doubt. I don’t know anyone in the business who will say safe na safe ito. There are health hazards there. And they are unregulated. Eh ‘di nabwisit si Presidente, so ang basa ko sa kanya, “Ah ganun ha? Ayaw niyo magpa-regulate, i-ban ko na lang kayo.”
And that’s how I feel also. Ayaw niyo magpa-regulate? Eh ‘di lumabas na kayo sa bansang ito. We’re willing to, and that was the direction that I was going. Taxation to me is just a means, a tool to help make these products that are harmful less accessible to the vulnerable, especially the youth.
Pero, meron din akong draft bill to regulate vaping and ecigs, etc. na ready rin akong isalang at i-defend as soon as mapasa ko na itong taxation portion. Kasi nauna lang naman yun because meron lang talaga tayong hinahabol na timeline.
Q: How will the ban affect the revenue generation of DOF?
Sen. Pia: Well, it’s very small compared to the overall collection. That is because e-cigs is still not widespread. It’s a new product. Bago lang yan. Ako nga hindi ko alam na may ganyang product until like a year ago na nakita kong may ganun.
So it will not contribute greatly immediately. I remember, DOF had said at some point, kung walang mako-collect diyan, okay lang kasi DOF recognizes that health comes first.
But I also understand that the President has also clarified his statement and I just have to push through with my part of the job. My job is to pass the taxation measure whether or not there’s an EO that comes out, if something comes out tomorrow, whether it’s a total ban or regulating, I have to be ready. Because this taxation measure has to be of a more or less permanent nature.
Paano kung temporary lang ang ban, tapos walang taxation measure in place? So I have to have that in place. And just to clarify also, there is actually a taxation measure in place. This was the law that was already passed last June towards the end of the 17th Congress [Republic Act 11346]. So that will be the one that will come into effect in January if I don’t push through with this measure and there is no ban.
So I have to push through in anticipation. I cannot assume na mato-total ban yan. I have to still do my job.
Q: Legally speaking, is the EO powerful enough to stop the entry of vape products and use, etc.?
Sen. Pia: You have to recognize, first of all, like I mentioned, again let’s go back.
DOH issued an AO. DOH time and again, and FDA, has the power to protect the public from health risks. That is their inherent power. Kung lahat na lang ng risks, let’s say itong sa polio, aantayin nila ang legislature, mahirap yun. There are parts of the work of the Executive that require immediate action.
So, DOH cannot always be waiting for the legislature to pass something. It is inherent in the Constitution, Article II Section 15 says that it is the State’s duty to protect the people’s health.
So may powers and responsibility ang DOH diyan and that goes without saying ang DOH naman is just an arm of no less than the President. They are under the President, so the President will also act that way.
But, I am not going to debate right now what is covered by the legislative powers and the executive powers. For me, you look at it on a case-to-case basis. Right now, the regulations that are supposed to protect the people from the harmful effects of e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco products, otherwise known as HTPs, has been TRO’ed.
Kung ako din ang Presidente, sasabihin ko sa kanila, “Ah ganun, ni-TRO niyo yung aking health arm? ‘Di sige, i-ban ko na lang kayo.”
Q: Just to be clear, the bill you will push is just to regulate e-cigarettes or to institutionalize banning?
Sen. Pia: Right now, on the floor is the taxation measure that you know. So as of now, as of the past few months, I was pursuing, I was going along the lines of the direction of the Executive, which is to highly regulate.
The President and even DOF Secretary, DOH, have been very clear that there are harmful effects of ecigs. And I myself went to WHO and have confirmed this. Everything I heard in the hearings were confirmed during my trips abroad that we are dealing with a harmful product. So it must be regulated. And as I said, taxation is a means to regulate it for health purposes.
Meanwhile, for the health side, there are bills – I looked at it, I am actually vice chair of the Committee on Health and as you all know, an advocate for health. There are pending bills but I intend to file a bill, which I believe is more comprehensive and is more reflective of the need to highly regulate a product that poses a health risk to the Filipinos.
Wala pa ang bill na yun. It’s in the drafting stage. And if you recall, I’ve been busy as the chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, but my interest is always health. So my trip to WHO has given me more knowledge.
Actually, during the budget, I was reviewing that bill on the side. I’d say it’s about 90% complete. I just really wanted a few more revisions. But I’ll be ready to file that anytime.
Q: The filing will come after the taxation measure passes?
Sen. Pia: Hindi naman. If may time naman ako to finalize that bill, I will file it. And that bill, as I said in answer to your question, is going along the direction of highly regulating.
Si Senator Tolentino, whom I worked very closely with – he was in WHO – is for a total ban. Kasi for me, it’s a thin line. Ang aming understanding of the health risk is exactly the same. It’s more of the appreciation of what would work better in our country, a total ban or highly regulating [these products]?
Part of me wants total ban. But the other part of me is okay with highly regulating. And this is where I want to share this conundrum that I face, because here you have industry players saying, “I-regulate niyo kami, mas gusto naming ma-regulate para ma-weed out natin ang mga fly-by-night diyan and those that might produce products that don’t comply with the safety standard.”
But meanwhile, ni-TRO naman nila ang pagre-regulate ng FDA and DOH. ‘Di ngayon, unregulated. Paano ba yun?
Q: Can you be more specific, ano ang ibig sabihin ng “to highly regulate”?
Sen. Pia: What I mean by saying ‘highly regulate’ is, it can be sold but there are many -not just guidelines, but there are many dos and don’ts. And those dos and don’ts, I will enumerate.
But offhand, you cannot sell to the youth and, in this case, I have expanded it to young people. Because ang brain, there is evidence that shows that the brain continues to develop until 25 years old. So at the age of 19, hindi ka na [minor], pero ang brain mo and decision-making skills mo are still very susceptible to persuasion, to advertisement and all that. So, that’s one way of regulating – that you ban the youth and even young people.
Advertising, you highly regulate that. You either totally ban or you only allow it in limited spaces. So that’s what I mean, maybe we can have a separate discussion on that. But I am giving you a glimpse of what I mean by highly regulate. And even the places where you will sell.
I’d love to give you this example. In the United Kingdom, where they actually allow e-cigs to be sold freely, the reason for that is because their cigarettes are highly regulated. You cannot enter a store and see cigarettes anywhere. So nag-drop na ang consumption ng youth nila.
So now, with the e-cig business, it appears that their youth is not vulnerable to it the way the youth in the US is. Because there are no cigarettes around. You can’t enter a store and find it. In fact, I wanted to make a point of buying, I kept forgetting because every time I enter a convenience store, you won’t see it.
So ang cigarette industry nila – I’m referring to cigarette industry – is highly regulated. And this allowed them to now look at what e-cigs can do for them. They are not allowing it na walang regulation, ha? Kasi for them, it is still a harmful product. Pero medyo liberal sila in allowing it as an alternative to cigarettes.
Q: So the direction towards eventually banning the selling of e-cigs in convenience stores will be part of the bill?
Sen. Pia: If you ask me, it should be included in the debates, because it’s a harmful products. And all across the world, connected pa rin kasi yan sa cigarettes. So, cigarettes in other parts of the world, very regulated na ang kanilang pagbebenta.
So si e-cigs, saan pumapasok diyan? Eh parang tayo, nafa-fast forward. Hindi pa nga natin totally nare-regulate ang cigarettes, nandito na si e-cigs.
So gusto ni e-cigs, “Huwag niyo naman kami masyadong i-regulate, ang cigarettes nga hindi niyo nire-regulate.” That’s not an excuse, eh ‘di i-regulate kayo pareho ng mas matindi. Dapat naman talaga ma-regulate silang pare-pareho.
Q: Does the order to ban e-cigs have an effect on the President’s directive to certify the sin tax bill as urgent?
Sen. Pia: No. I don’t believe so, because like I mentioned, the President is very vocal about his concerns, ang ideas niya, he will really just say it. So my understanding is, just like me, when he says, “I-ban na lang yan,” it’s because of the facts that he’s faced with. It’s because of the annoying reality that these people don’t want to be regulated and then there are courts that actually felt that the business interest of these vaping companies are more important than the welfare and health of the Filipinos.
It boggles my mind. At si Presidente din, takang taka kung bakit ganyan sila magdesisyon. ni-TRO nila ang Department of Health and FDA.
Q: Will the sin tax bill be approved before the year ends?
Sen. Pia: I hope so. I have been having more detailed discussions with my colleagues. And I have expressed the request of DOF that we expedite this. So napapag-usapan na yan. And I have requested na magkaroon ng caucus right after the budget and that we prioritize the debates. Kasi ready naman ako.
Q: Does the caucus have a schedule already?
Sen. Pia: Sinabi ko naman kay SP [Senate President Vicente Sottto III] na gusto ko sana mag-caucus right after. Syempre, ayaw ko naman makagulo dahil hilong hilo na kaming lahat sa long hours ng budget. But hopefully. Kasi period of amendments na lang naman kami. So kung masisingit ko yun during one afternoon, para ma-explain ko na and ma-discuss din itong effects ng ban, baka iba-iba din ang ideas nila.
Ako, I want to say that tuloy natin ito. Kasi it’s just a question of rates. I don’t think anyone is not for taxing these sin products, it’s just a question of rates. So I wanna just sit down and discuss with them, “Saan tayo ngayon?” kasi ako, I stand by the rates that I propose.
Thank you! #