Officials on Monday hesitated to lift the ban on the sale of so-called sin products as tobacco and alcoholic beverages but acknowledged any decision is closely tied to the decision on whether or not the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is finally lifted or extended after 30 April.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the proposed resumption in the sale of tobacco products is still under careful consideration given that a continued ban encourages illicit activities.
“That’s under consideration because absence of cigarettes encourages illicit trade. But let me reiterate, it will depend on the result of the ongoing evaluation of the tradeoffs involved in maintaining the current lockdown or tightening or loosening it further,” Dominguez said.
On the matter of alcoholic beverages, however, the Finance chief dropped an emphatic “no” and for the current liquor sale ban to remain in place.
The alcohol beverage industry has pleaded for the lifting of the alcohol ban and asked government to “consider the plight workers” and the benefits the industry provides the economy.
Alcohol makers recognize the government intent to flatten the coronavirus infection curve with the continued imposition of the ECQ but called for a partial lifting of the ban where consumers buy alcoholic products under a certain time frame.
Tobacco manufacturers called for a similar lifting and cited the real risk of resurgence of the illicit tobacco trade post-ECQ given the cessation in the production of legitimate cigarettes and retailers fearing supply shortage in the coming months.
Retailers claim that shortly before the 16 March lockdown, intelligence reports showed illicit traders ramping up orders from foreign sources of illicit cigarettes, which caused the price of imported cheap contraband to rise as well.
While the resumption of the sale of sin products is a revenue source, fiscal planners fear the cash subsidies provided the displaced workers may only be spent on sin products instead of essential goods.
The ongoing debate highlighted the results of a consumer survey in India proving the potential of so-called e-cigarettes as additional option for tobacco control and how vaping has substantial impact on public health, according to a local vaping group.
“This survey clearly shows vaping helps smokers quit or reduce smoking. Its results are particularly relevant to the Philippines because like India, our country has a large number of smokers and a low smoking cessation rate. The Department of Health and other local policymakers should look at the evidence for e-cigarettes with an open mind and start making science-based decisions to help reduce smoking in the country,” said Peter Paul Dator, president of The Vapers Philippines.
This relates to the interview-based survey involving 3,000 vapers aged 18 and older from eight of the largest metropolitan cities in India. The majority of respondents (71.3 percent) used e-cigarettes to quit (30 percent) or reduce (41.3 percent) smoking. Similar results were observed in smokeless tobacco (SLT) users. Most (79 percent) believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Survey participants reported minimal side effects (cough, headache, dry mouth/throat) and some health benefits (improved general health, breathing, smell and taste) after they started vaping.
Around 81 percent of survey respondents were men and 19 percent women, with average age of 29 years. The majority (80 percent) were first exposed to nicotine through combustible cigarette smoking, SLT use, or both. Leading tobacco harm reduction expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos and Indian researchers conducted the survey whose results were published on March 30, 2020 in Harm Reduction Journal.
Dator noted that India and the Philippines face similar smoking-related public health challenges.
The World Health Organization estimates that over 120 million smokers in India account for almost 12 percent of the 1.1 billion smokers globally.