House quickie: ‘Irresponsible, tragic’

Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they are inconvenient.

–The Contender

What a way to show collective compassion for people stricken with a lethal habit and wanting to quit.

Instead of tossing personal flotation devices or life vests, the congressional crew instead threw a huge anchor at them.

How else to describe the action taken by the aptly called lower House of Congress on a vital  measure that is supposed to reconcile the fiscal goals of the administration with the physical health of people compromised by a deleterious lifestyle?

Snapping the only currently available, effective, and serially verified lifeline is the politically correct way to go now?

And they picked a fine time to make the unkindest cut – when more and more people trying to quit smoking have found an escape hatch or at least a transitioning device that would aid them to a healthier way of life.

What reaction do you expect from the affected parties to react to such a careless, thoughtless move?

Try outrage.

And that was exactly what the Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association and The Vapers PH expressed over the sneaky, quickie congressional caper over the weekend.

Both groups condemned a hastily passed House bill significantly raising excise taxes of e-vapor products and making the tax rates virtually the same as regular cigarettes.

They slammed the chamber for lack of consultation and for ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence that these products poses 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 said.

The House of Representatives approved on second reading last August 14 a substituted version of House Bill 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 approval of the measure, it turned out, was procedurally flawed:

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  1026 with another version of the bill. Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate questioned the undue haste and lack of transparency that led to the expanded scope of the substitute bill.  

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,” he said.  

“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 added.  

While  our lawmakers are making an unabashed policy U-turn, foreign authorities are going full steam ahead with smoking-cessation regimes, protocols, tools and aides:

*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-cigs, but acknowledged that the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco.  

*Previously opposed to e-cigs 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 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 NZ’s Smokefree 2025 goal, adding that   vaping products can act as a route out of smoking for its 550,000 daily smokers.

* 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 the country’s smoking rate was accelerated by the entry of heated tobacco products in the Japanese market in 2014. 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.

* An expert independent evidence review by Public Health England concluded that e-cigs are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking and that e-cigs 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-cigs in the UK are current or ex-smokers.

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

*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-cigs is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.

Behold God’s glory and seek His mercy.

Pause and pray, people..