Moms engage tobacco reps in heated debate at Senate

- By Claudeth Mocon-ciriaco

Fueled by their desire to protect the Filipino youth from harm, three mothers, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who is a health advocate, dr. Riz Gonzalez of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and dr. encarnita Blanco-limpin of the Philippine College of Physicians battled it out using their science-backed arguments against tobacco industry representa­tives during the recent Senate hearing on four bills seeking to regulate vapes and heated tobacco products (HTPS).

“I want to emphasize that the sin tax law, which was passed barely a year ago, has already resolved the issue on the flavors, age, and jurisdicti­on of the FDA [Food and drug Administra­tion] and the DOH [department of Health],” Cayetano said as she also reiterated a point she made in her manifestat­ion at the Senate days prior to the hearing—that the issue of vapes and HTPS is a very important health measure and should thus be looked at from the perspectiv­e of health.

One of the points of contention was on age of purchase which, as pointed out by Cayetano, was already resolved just a year ago with the passage of the sin tax law, which pegged it at 21 years of age. Of the four new bills being deliberate­d on, three were proposing to lower it to 18.

Too young

dr. Blanco-limpin pointed out that the age of 18 is too young to be introduced to addictive substances.

She said that instead of lowering the age of purchase, it should instead be increased to 25.

“Scientific studies show that the age of maturation actually occurs at the age of 25. Since all of these are addictive products, maybe it is wise to consider that we put the minimum age of purchase for all vaporized products, heated tobacco, regular tobacco products or even alcohol at the age of 21 or even perhaps at the age of 25 so we would be able to prevent our young from taking on this addiction at an earlier age,” she said.

dr. Gonzalez supported dr. Blancolimp­in’s position, saying that the prefrontal cortex only matures when a person turns 25.

Dopamine center

THE prefrontal context is the dopamine center of the brain. When one smokes or vapes, this area is targeted by nicotine, a major ingredient in vapes and cigarettes, thereby harming it.

“Regular exposure to nicotine negatively affects the developmen­t of this particular part of the brain that is important for the executive function that is mainly mood and impulse control, attention and learning which in turn impacts decision making. lowering the age of access to e-cigarettes from 21 to 18 years old is an retrogress­ive act. We uphold that the age of access should be at 21 years,” she said.

However, Joey dulay, president of the Philippine e-cigarette Industry Associatio­n, noted that 18 is the “legal age” in the country, a view that was support by the tobacco industry who said 18 is just the right age.

“We can apply for a driver’s license, we can vote at 18, we can buy cigarettes at 18, buy alcohol at 18,” he said.

Cayetano was quick to counter this argument by pointing out that voting and getting a driver’s license are not harmful activities.

“To be able to use an e-cig, it’s a privilege that should only be allowed for adults. Not just adults but young people who have matured brains already because it is addictive. I don’t think it should be aligned with those other activities,” she said.

Healthy learners

COMMITTED to nurturing healthy learners, the department of education (deped) expressed its full support towards stricter measures on electronic Nicotine delivery Systems (ends) or electronic Non-nicotine delivery Systems (ENNDS), or also known as e-cigarettes or “vapes.”

“On matters related to substance use prevention, education alone is not enough. In their classes, we teach our learners how to reject harmful substances. Outside these classes, we need policies and structures that will help reinforce our learners’ healthprom­oting choices, complement­ing what we teach them in school,” education Secretary leonor magtolis Briones penned in her statement of support, in time for the public hearing on the provisions of the Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act.

The Senate hearing explored regulation­s on age restrictio­n, online trade, product flavors, among others. Currently, vapor products and HTPS are already regulated under Republic Act 11467 (RA 11467), signed by President duterte in January 2020.

Vapor products

under RA 11467, selling vapor products and HTPS to persons below 21 years old is prohibited. However, the pending bills in the Senate, similar to the substitute bill at the House of Representa­tives, intends to reduce the minimum age of restrictio­n to 18.

“This a real concern for us in deped. Before the pandemic, the PPS coordinate­d with us to explore the determinan­ts of e-cigarette use among [Grades 7 to 9] learners [and results showed] that 6.7 percent [of 11,500 learners surveyed] have tried and are using e-cigarettes,” Briones said.

The PPS survey results showed that the top reasons for using vape among deped learners are online accessibil­ity (32 percent), varied flavors (22 percent), and the belief that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco (17 percent). Banking on these results, Briones joined the calls of “fellow health champions” for discussion­s on tobacco product regulation­s to be led by the Senate Committee on Health.

“especially now that we are in a pandemic, I appeal to our legislator­s to approach the issue from a health perspectiv­e. We are all first-hand witnesses of how any threat or attack to a country’s health system eventually affects every other sector of public life, from economics to education,” Briones noted.

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