Transcript of ambush interview Senator Pia S. Cayetano

Topic: Public hearing on proposed excise taxes on electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)

Reporter: How do you weigh in on varying claims on the health impacts of e-cigarettes?

PSC: Well, we have to admit that it's very technical and it takes time. And that is something that I commit to the Filipino people, na ide-dedicate ko talaga yung time o oras ko na busisiin yang mga claims na yan.

But one thing that I am prepared to say now, kasi lumabas naman talaga sa hearing, kahit ano pang claim ang sabihin nila, and one of the claims being mentioned [by the resource persons of Philip Morris] is yung pinayagan na ibenta ang e-cigs sa US, is yung pinayagan daw ng FDA - the Food and Drug Administration in the US.

But I clarified, they are allowed to sell. But there is no statement from the FDA that it is safe. So let's be clear about that. So, every time may nagpapadala sa amin ng position paper, may lumalabas na mga news articles, wina-warning-an ko sila na mag-ingat sila sa pagsasabing 'safe' kasi nililinlang naman natin ang mga tao kapag sinasabi nating safe kasi kahit naman ang US FDA walang sinabi na safe yan. Pati WHO, walang sinabi na safe yan.

Yes, merong kanya-kanyang dalang mga expert na nagsasabing less harmful, pero para sabihin mong less harmful, well what is the degree of harm that is acceptable?

That's why the analogy given by one [WHO OIC Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe] was that if you jump from 10 floors, para mong sinabing, "Oh 'di safer, dun ka tumalon sa 6th floor. Safer ka dun." Siguro nga, safer kasi pang-6th floor, diba?

So, hindi naman ako biased by saying that. But that is what it is. Just saying that this is now a new product, and it's not identical to cigarettes, but wala pang makakapagsabi talaga na safer siya.

Reporter: So it's really a tough balancing act between the health issues and the tax issue, the revenue component?

PSC: Yes, you are absolutely right. My job as the chair of the Committee on Ways and Means is to look at our ultimate objective. We want to raise funds, that's why nagta-tax po tayo ng mga activities and products, but in this case, these are sin products. Last week, alcohol, this week yung tinatawag natin na e-cigs. Kasama po dyan yung mga heated tobacco, yung mga vape, yung with nicotine and without nicotine.

And we need to balance na what is the ill effect in the young people, kasi they are the most vulnerable dito, children and young people. So, if taxation has been also shown to be very effective in terms of preventing the use, not the only...

Let me clarify. There are many things that need to be done to have an effective reduction in the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and one of those is taxation. But there are many other ways. So yun ang ine-explore natin, saan makakatulong ang taxation to limit the access of the youth to these products, a lot of which still need further studies to find out how harmful they are? Kasi may harm naman talaga.

Reporter: What's the tax range that you are looking at?

PSC: Yung proposal ng DOF is similar, identical to cigarettes, which is P45, kasi nga, ang position ng DOF at DOH, harmful pa rin yan. So kung you want to veer on the side of safety, then hindi mo gagawing mas mura ang tax niyan. Kasi sasabihin mo, harmful din yan.

Wala pa namang sinasabi ang mga industry. Wala naman akong narinig, kayo wala naman kayong narinig. Wala naman silang actual na proposal na counter. I think ine-explain lang nila. Kasi alam nilang may option din naman kasi to ban. May option pa naman to ban yan, although hindi yan dito sa committee ko, pero pwede akong mag-recommend. That's always an option also.

Kaya tinitingnan ko sa ibang countries ba, allowed ba? Well, some countries have banned it.

Reporter: At what point will you take that option to ban?

PSC: As a health advocate, I am for banning a lot of things. But I am also a practical person, and I do understand that there is smuggling, there is parallel importation. So I would have to consult DTI, DOF, on the effects of this. Kaya hindi ako basta-basta pwede to be...

A dedicated health advocate that I am, I am also a public servant and I also have the obligation to listen to the experts on the other... how else will the product come in, diba? Baka pumasok pa rin yan in some other means.

Reporter: Are you also concerned about one of the presentations earlier where it was mentioned that the aerosols or the vapes are also used to carry illicit drugs?

PSC: Yes of course, yes. We have to be concerned about that. What concerns me is the fact that it is so small. We may come up with all the regulations, but the effectivity of the regulations can only depend on how it is implemented, di ba?

If the packaging of the product is so small, such that hindi mo na pala napapansin na lahat ng katabi mo ay nagve-vape pala, at baka pa nga nagve-vape ng illegal substances, paano? Paanong gagawin natin?

That's why I fear for the young people. Not just children, but young people. Because they may be in a room, you know, with their friends, they might even be studying, kalahati pala nun nagve-vape, hindi nila alam. #

Note:

The resource persons of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Co (PMFTC Inc) at today's hearing are the following:

Mr Patrick Muttart Director, External Affairs and Communications

Ms. Yin Boll Head, Scientific Engagement Asia

Ms. Tomoko Iida Director, Corp. & Scientific Affairs

Source: Senate of the Philippines