Pia on e-cigarettes: ‘Less harmful’ does not mean ‘safe’

If there was one clear takeaway from the Senate’s latest committee hearing on proposals to raise ‘sin’ taxes, it’s that electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are “definitely” not safe and could pose risks to people’s health, Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Pia S. Cayetano asserted. 

The panel on Thursday (September 5) conducted its third public hearing on proposals to increase excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarette products under Package 2+ of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or CTRP. 

The hearing, which focused on e-cigarettes, invited officials from industry, who expounded on the position that heated tobacco products (HTPs) and vape products are “less harmful” than conventional cigarettes. 

On the other side, various health experts, including officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), refuted industry claims, saying there is not enough evidence to prove that e-cigs are indeed safer for human health. 

WHO’s Country Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (OIC), even likened using conventional cigarettes to jumping off a 10-storey building, whereas using e-cigarettes would be like jumping off a six-storey building. Either way, she said, the use of such products is “inherently toxic.” 

Both sides cited different studies and experiences from other countries, such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, where e-cigarettes have been commercially available longer than in the Philippines, and where extensive studies have been conducted on the impact of these products on people’s health. 

“One thing that I am prepared to say now is, [there’s no truth to such claims that e-cigarettes are safe]. Para sabihin mong less harmful, well, then what is the degree of harm that is acceptable?” Cayetano stressed.

Summing up the discussions after the hearing in a briefing with media members, the senator added that despite the authorization granted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) to e-cigarette companies to market and sell e-cigs in the US, the latter were still not authorized by the regulatory agency to claim that their products are a “safer alternative” to conventional cigarettes. 

“There is no statement from the (US) FDA that it is safe. So let’s be clear about that. Nililinlang naman natin ang mga tao kapag sinasabi nating safe. Pati ang WHO, walang sinabi na safe ‘yan,” Cayetano said. 

Furthermore, the senator said one of the primary objectives in raising taxes on these products is to make sure that they don’t become readily accessible to children and young people, whom she said are the most vulnerable to e-cigarette use. 

“Suddenly, this tool that the industry is trying to promote as an alternative to smoking is now being taken up by young people who do not even smoke,” Cayetano pointed out during the hearing.

“I would like to hear from the industry how they intend to market their products, because I saw very disturbing modes of marketing [targeting the youth],” she added. 

The Ways and Means Committee is set to continue discussions on the tax measures on Wednesday (September 11). #

Senate Ways and Means Chair Pia Cayetano on taxing e-cigarettes as ‘sin’ products: You may claim that these are ‘less harmful’ but this is not equivalent to being ‘safe.’