‘If you are smoking now, you will be arrested’: Duterte bans vaping, says cigarettes are better

(L) President Rodrigo Duterte <I>Photo: ABS-CBN News</I>, (R) An e-cigarette <I>Photo: Unsplash </I>
(L) President Rodrigo Duterte Photo: ABS-CBN News, (R) An e-cigarette Photo: Unsplash

President Rodrigo Duterte said last night that he’s banning the use and importation of electronic cigarettes in the Philippines after the Health Department announced last week the country’s first case of a vaping-related illness.

Read: Pasay City bans public vaping, citing health risks

Duterte declared his intention to ban e-cigarettes in a late-night press conference in Malacañang Palace, where he described them as “toxic” and called cigarettes superior to their electronic counterparts.

“Now vaping, they said, is electronic,” the president said of suggestions that e-cigarettes are healthier. “Don’t give me that shit.”

“Cigarettes are better because the confirmed toxic thing that causes harm are listed. Vaping contains nicotine and other chemicals that we do not know. It has not passed the FDA [Food and Drug Administration].”

Visibly fuming, the president then announced, “I said smoking is dangerous. So vaping is also dangerous and I am banning it. And if you are smoking now, you will be arrested.”

To drive his point home, Duterte added, “Better stop it because I will order your arrest if you do it in a room. I am now ordering the law enforcement agencies to arrest anybody [who is] vaping in public. That is like smoking; you cannot do it inside a room.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced late last week that an unidentified 16-year-old girl from Visayas was suffering from a lung condition, recently dubbed EVALI, which is caused by vaping. The teen patient was hospitalized because she had difficulty breathing after smoking e-cigarettes daily for four months.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there have been 2,172 documented cases of EVALI in the United States as of Feb. 2019.

Read: Duterte signs order on nationwide smoking ban

Duterte claimed that it was not necessary to have an executive order (EO) in place for the ban to be implemented immediately, and that his verbal instruction should be sufficient.

“As a government worker here, standing [before you], I have that urgent power to do it. So I am ordering it [now]; the EO will follow,” he said.

Sure enough, less than 24 hours after Duterte made his decision, the Philippine National Police’s officer-in-charge, Police Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, released a statement ordering “all police units nationwide to enforce the ban on [the] use of vapes; ensure that all violators will be arrested and properly recorded in the police blotters; [ensure] confiscated items are accounted for and disposed of properly.”

Given the lack of any official law covering the matter, however, it’s unclear what charge police would cite in their enforcement.

Gamboa also instructed the police to coordinate with local government units, agencies, and e-cigarette stores to enforce the ban. At the same time, he banned vaping from all police camps and told officers they will be sanctioned if caught e-smoking.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lorenzo Mata president of “Quit for Good,” a group that advocates e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco, today appealed to Duterte to rethink his vaping ban.

“We would respectfully appeal to the president to reconsider his decision because it can have dire consequences in the health and economy of the nation,” Mata told the news show “Early Edition.”

He cited a study from the United Kingdom which revealed that vaping is still 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

“Without a viable alternative to smoking, [vaping, which is] now considered as 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarette, then we are depriving the 17 million Filipino smokers of this opportunity” to quit tobacco, he said.

Mata added that he was nonetheless in favor of the strict regulation of e-cigarettes, as opposed to an outright ban.

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