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People Vaping in public / Winson Wong / SCMP

Groups slam bill hiking taxes on e-cigs, heated tobacco

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The Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association (PECIA) and The Vapers PH have criticized the hasty passage of a House bill significantly raising excise taxes on e-vapor products and making the tax rates virtually the same as regular cigarettes.

Both groups slammed the lower chamber of Congress for lack of consultation and for ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence that these products pose significantly less risk to health than cigarettes.

"Smokers will simply continue to use cigarettes. There is no incentive for them from government to switch to a better alternative," they warned.

The House of Representatives approved on 2nd reading on August 14 a substituted version of House Bill No. 1026 which was originally an alcohol excise tax measure but suddenly included a tax on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

PECIA and Vapers PH said no public hearing was conducted and they were not consulted.
 
“This unfortunate development is absolutely shameful and tragic. Approximately 10 Filipinos die every hour due to smoking-related diseases. While an increasing number of countries are adopting harm reduction in their national tobacco control policy, our Congress wants to increase taxes on reduced-risk products that can help prevent smoking-related sickness and deaths in the country,” said PECIA president Joey Dulay in a statement.

“These proposed heavy sanctions on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products will result to a public health tragedy. The substitute version of House Bill No. 1026 is inconsiderate and irresponsible that should be reviewed with proper public consultation. Heavy taxes on reduced-risk products will only result to smokers sticking it out with conventional cigarettes instead of switching to less harmful nicotine products”, said Mark Czerwin Erana, President of the Vapers PH. 

The substitution of the bill on the plenary floor happened after the period of debates ended. During the ensuing period allotted for amendments, House Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc made a motion to substitute HB No. 1026 with another version of the bill. 

Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez and Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate questioned the undue haste and lack of transparency that led to the expanded scope of the substitute bill. 

Follow the evidence

Dulay urged legislators to open their eyes to the numerous independent studies supported by reputable organizations and published in respected scientific journals that show e-cigarettes are a significantly less harmful alternative to conventional cigarettes and are viable smoking cessation aids.

“The policy goal should be to encourage smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. If e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are taxed like combustible cigarettes, Filipino smokers will be discouraged to switch to these reduced-risk alternatives,” said Dulay. 

Look at other countries

“Our legislators need to review and look hard at the successes of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan”, said Erana. These countries have adopted harm reduction in their national tobacco control policy. 

“In making the tax for e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, smokers will simply continue to smoke. This defeats the government’s goal to reduce the number of Filipino smokers,” the Vapers PH president said.

The UK Tobacco Control Plan 2017-2022 clearly states the British government’s intention to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products, particularly e-cigarettes. 

It stressed that the best thing smokers can do for their health is to quit smoking, but acknowledged that the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco. 

Previously opposed to e-cigarettes and other reduced-risk products, the New Zealand government considered the emerging scientific evidence and changed its position a few years ago. Citing expert opinion, the Ministry of Health (MoH) stated that vaping products are significantly less harmful than smoking and that smokers switching to vaping products are highly likely to reduce their health risks and for those around them. 

The MoH now believes that vaping products have the potential to make a contribution to New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal. According to the MoH, vaping products can act as a route out of smoking for New Zealand’s 550,000 daily smokers. The agency encourages smokers who want to use vaping products to quit smoking to seek the support of local stop smoking services. 

In 2005, 49 percent of men and 14 percent of women in Japan were smokers. In 2018, the country’s smoking rate decreased to around 18 percent of the total population. 

Experts believe that the remarkable decline in Japan’s smoking rate was accelerated by the entry of heated tobacco products in the Japanese market in 2014. Combustible cigarettes are heavily taxed in Japan. The tax rate on conventional cigarettes is more than three times higher than the tax rate for smokeless tobacco.

Heat-not-burn products are currently taxed less than cigarettes. According to the 2018 State of Smoking Survey, the rising popularity of heated tobacco products in Japan is partially due to growing awareness about the health risks associated with smoking, as well as the high cost of traditional tobacco products and Japanese smokers’ desire for cleanliness and to avoid smelling like cigarette smoke. 

An expert independent evidence review by Public Health England concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking and that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people in the UK. 

The review found that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in the UK are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It also provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group).

Public Health England is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the UK Department of Health.

A report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) entitled “Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction” concluded that e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health. 

Smokers can therefore be reassured and encouraged to use them, and the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking. 

The American Cancer Society recommended that smokers should be encouraged to switch to the least harmful form of tobacco product possible and declared that switching to the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.

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