Issue of March 11, 2018

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Vape, cigarette communities question city’s smoke–lfree edict
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

Anti-smoking advocates clashed with tobacco and vaping community and industry players during the city council session on Monday in connection with the implementation of the city’s expanded Smoke-free Ordinance.

During the proceedings, representatives from the tobacco industry questioned some of the provisions of Ordinance 34-2017 which they claimed are inconsistent with Republic Act 9211 or the act regulating tobacco industries in the Philippines. Some Baguio wholesalers and retailers raised similar arguments in separate position papers submitted to the city council on March 6 and May 2017, respectively.

The vaping community and traders, on the other hand, said they should not be equated with cigarette smokers as the two are entirely distinct from each other and therefore should be treated under a different set of rules.

The Baguio Association of Bars and Entertainers also protested the stringent rules with regards to the non-smoking and designated smoking areas (DSA), as it all drives away some tourists and customers who smoke.

Standing their ground, anti-smoking advocates led by the Health Justice Philippines and implementers of the Smoke-free Ordinance disputed the claims of the petitioners by citing latest studies and reminding about the country being a signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention and Tobacco Control.

AJ Aurellado, who represents about 12,000 vapers in the city, appealed for the city council to distinctly categorize smoking from vaping, which they claim has no known harmful effects to health. In fact, he claimed that it helped many quit cigarette smoking, which health risks they do not dispute.

He asked city officials to allow existing responsible vape shops to operate in their current locations pending decision on their petition, and to assign a separate area for vapers, instead of putting them together with smokers in the same DSA. The city ordinance does not distinguish smokers and vapers and allow them in the same DSA.

Joey Dulay, president of the Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association, said smoking rules should not apply to vapers, as he appealed against the spread of baseless and false information about vaping.

Vaping, he asserted, does not kill when used properly, and is 95 percent less harmful than smoking based on studies made by experts from United Kingdom. With its plant-based ingredients, he said it may be an effective method in helping smokers to quit.

“Everybody knows smoking kills, but still many smoke. So let us not send the wrong message. Make our laws evidence-based. With proper information on vaping, we could save millions of lives because it helps in the long-term cessation of smokers,” Dulay said.

He asked the government to encourage smokers instead to switch to lesser harmful products and include the same in tobacco programs and legislations.

In a position paper, 15 local wholesalers pointed out that Ordinance 34, Section 5 (h, i, k,l, and m) contradicts RA 9211, Section 10 by unduly expanding the prohibition on the selling of cigarettes, particularly on the “100 meters from any point of the perimeter of a school, public playground, or other facility frequented particularly by minors.”

The ordinance used the term “radius” instead of “perimeter.” According to the business owners, simply looking at maps, which was used in identifying violators in a recent inspection that resulted in the issuance of notices of violations to some stores, and drawing a radius of 100 meters from a school will not provide a realistic determination on whether or not a store is within the 100-m prohibition area under RA 9211.

They also said that the national law, as well as Pres. Duterte’s Executive Order 26, does not set a total ban on cigarette advertisements, which the Baguio ordinance in Section 5 prohibits in all places including point of sales establishments.

“As responsible members of the business community in Baguio City, we carefully adhere to the laws and regulations that apply to our enterprises. Our only request is that the ordinance in question be amended to make sure that it is consistent with the law, and that its implementation is reasonable and realistic,” the business owners said.

The Philippine Tobacco Institute, represented by Atty. Alain Baguisi, also raised the inconsistencies of the ordinance to the national law in the same forum.

Babes president Allan Bandoy complained of reduced number of clientele due to the regulated smoking areas. He appealed to the city council that bars be allowed to put up enclosed smoking areas that are equipped with proper ventilation so that they could cater to clients who prefer to smoke.

Health Justice Phils. Legal Consultant Atty. Bernadette Huggins, on the other hand, said a recent research by the University of California found that e-cigarettes double risks of heart attack and it actually make it harder for smokers to quit and lead to being dual smokers.

She added that the vaping advocates failed or inadvertently did not mention that e-cigarettes have metal contents that are toxic, and might cause harm to health, including breakage of DNA strands. The UC study, released on Feb. 27, is the first piece of evidence that says e-cigarettes have serious adverse impacts on humans, as tests were actually made on humans instead of animal samples.

“Right to health is paramount to right to trade. Stop manufacturing these products and there will be no addicts,” Huggins said.

She as well reminded that the Philippines is a signatory to the WHO-FCTC, which among others, agreed on the total ban on advertising of tobacco products. Huggins said tobacco manufacturers themselves in fact signified their full support to the convention on Feb. 22, 2005, but it is something, she claimed, that they omit to state in talks or public hearings.

Dr. Donabel Tubera, city epidemiologist and a member of the Smoke-free Ordinance Task Force, said vaping and its ingredients have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore it is dangerous to use as per advisory issued in 2014.

In an interview, Tubera said they will continue supporting the implementation of the Smoke-free Ordinance, saying that its primary consideration is protecting second-hand/non-smokers.

“There are a lot of laws protecting us from second-hand smoke, so it is misleading to mention RA 9211 only as basis of their (smokers and cigarette manufacturers) rights. The WHO-FCTC, in fact, is our standard policy on health all over the world, and we have achieved that standard,” Tubera said.

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