Malilong: Vaping: The steam is as harmful as the smoke?

Frank Malilong

NICOTINE addicts who thought they have found a gadget through which they can indulge their craving without risking a jail term for smoking in public places may have to think again. President Rodrigo Duterte has totally banned the use and importation of e-cigarettes.

For a while, we were made to believe that vaping was safe, that being next to a person who is literally letting off steam posed no danger to our health unlike in smoking where the smoke, inhaled or exhaled by the smoker, can cause cancer and a host of other respiratory ailments. That false sense of security was laid bare when a 16-year-old girl was hospitalized last month for e-cigarette-associated lung injury or Evali.

The case prompted Duterte, a former smoker, to immediately order a ban on e-cigarettes and the arrest of people using them. Never mind the law, Duterte told the police. I will issue the executive order later.

The President has actually already issued a related executive order but EO 26 applies only to the old and traditional vice of smoking tobacco products. Vaping is not mentioned but Duterte is undeterred.

He even warned judges not to interfere in his campaign by issuing temporary restraining orders (TROs). “I will not obey your order,” he declared during his speech at the 80th anniversary of the Department of National Defense Wednesday night.

The president was probably aware of the TRO that a Pasig Regional Trial Court issued last month to stop the implementation of an administrative order by the DOH that sought to expand the coverage of EO 26 to include vaping.

The judiciary is a separate and co-equal branch of government and it is disconcerting to watch the President ignore that independence by telling the courts that he will not respect their order if they throw a monkey wrench on his anti-vaping campaign.

Other than this, I am happy with the President’s order, which is in fact long overdue. Vaping is banned or at least regulated in many countries for years now. In Southeast Asia, vaping is illegal in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand and is heavily taxed in Indonesia.

The police are said to be still confused on how to implement Duterte’s order. The regional director wants it followed to the letter but some of his subordinates are properly worried about the consequences since they have no basis to arrest and confiscate other than the President’s verbal order.

I hope that the President will issue that order immediately, if he has not done so yet. It will not take much crafting anyway. Just a single paragraph in EO 26 including vaping among the prohibited acts would already suffice.

And before I forget, could he please remind the police to enforce the original ban (against smoking) with equal vigor and passion? I would like to see some arrests, please.