Cabaero: Temper response to vape directive

Nini Cabaero

AT the beginning of the vape ban controversy was a report that a user in Cebu was hospitalized because of a lung injury related to her vaping.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed the ban on vaping on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, after he was asked to comment on the Department of Health (DOH) announcement that a 16-year-old girl was diagnosed with an electronic cigarette or vape-associated lung injury (Evali), the first in the country.

With that single case and the President’s verbal order, police started confiscating vaping devices and warning users of Duterte’s directive to arrest them. Police visited vape shops and told owners of the order and that they might as well close shop. The seized vape units will be destroyed, not to be returned to the users, police said. On what basis? They turned to the President’s order.

Duterte even warned the judiciary not to stop the vaping ban. “Judges, I warn you, do not issue restraining orders to the Customs, to the Coast Guard. I will not obey your order because of the peculiar situation this country finds (itself in),” Duterte said. “Judges, I know that you can determine whether vaping is good or not, but unfortunately, your indolence does not inspire confidence. It takes you too long to decide and so do not interfere in this.”

The government’s response to that one case of Evali is not commensurate with the problem. There is a bigger problem with the high number of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV-positive individuals in the country.

It’s not that the government should just ignore the single Evali case. No. There’s no need to wait for a fatality before authorities would react. But the response, the extent of the police action does not reflect the scale of the vaping problem.

Then, there is the question of the legal basis for the confiscations and possible arrests of vape users. As Meinrado Paredes, retired Regional Trial Court executive judge, said, there is no existing law that bans vaping and possessing vape devices. Seized devices should be returned to their owners, he added. He also said there is no law disallowing the vaping business.

If there is a presidential directive, this must first be published before it is implemented. “There must be a publication so that the public would be forewarned whether it is a criminal offense or not,” Paredes said in a SunStar Cebu report. Most people would agree that vaping, like smoking, should be regulated. I agree to regulation. It should be made illegal if done in public or if vape devices are sold to minors. The government can even impose a sin tax on vapes to discourage usage. But there should be a law that clearly specifies what is illegal and what are the penalties.

An overreaction to the problem could only lead to people’s rights being trampled on, their possessions being taken without legal ground and licensed businesses getting driven underground.