Unleashing a monster

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star
Unleashing a monster
Disposable vapes are battery-operated devices that come prefilled with e-liquid and are designed to be used once and then discarded.
STAR / File

There is now a growing trend globally to ban disposable vapes.

Disposable vapes are battery-operated devices that come prefilled with e-liquid and are designed to be used once and then discarded. They are lightweight and portable and offer a range of flavors, often with set nicotine levels, making them an attractive option for those looking to try out different flavor profiles without the hassle of refilling or charging a device.

Vaping is not illegal, especially for the refillable and non-disposable ones. In the United Kingdom, all e-liquids sold must comply with EU regulations, such as requiring the ingredients to be listed on the packaging and limiting the amount of certain substances such as nicotine that can be included in the product. There are also specific laws in place that regulate the safety of vaping devices, the size of e-liquid bottles, the nicotine strength of e-liquids and the design of vaping devices.

For example, in the UK, the maximum nicotine strength is two percent, the e-liquid bottles should be no larger than 10 ml, vape tanks should be no bigger than two ml capacity and there are also requirements of emissions testing and provision of toxicological data by the manufacturers, among others.

The problem is with these cheap disposable vapes, mostly coming from China, that do not contain a listing of the ingredients and the amount of each that is used. E-juice or vape juice usually contain nicotine, vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol and flavorings but with these cheap disposables which are are generally unregulated, you don’t even know if they are safe to use.

According to a report by Time.com, the UK government has announced a plan to ban the sale of disposable vapes in an attempt to curb the rise in vaping among children. The plan would also force companies to use plain packaging and place restrictions on flavors sold in an effort to make the products less appealing to children.

The same report cited a 2023 report from Action on Smoking and Health that found the proportion of children experimenting with vaping growing by 50 percent year-over-year and the proportion of 11-to-17-year-old people who vape increasing almost nine times in the last two years, with government saying that disposable vapes have been a key driver for the rise.

A report from The Guardian last January also revealed that also in the UK, the number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled, with nine percent of 11- to 15-year-olds now using vapes. The proportion of 11-to-17-year-old vapes using disposables has increased almost nine-fold in the past two years.

The ban will also reduce the major environmental impact of disposables, since five million vapes are thrown away each week, up from 1.3 million last year.

Australia also began banning the importation of disposable e-cigarettes in January, citing concerns over teens’ health while in December, France’s National Assembly unanimously approved a bill to ban the products to protect young people and reduce environmental impacts, the report added.

Another report, this time from npr.org as early as July last year revealed that since 2020, the number of different vaping devices for sale in the United States has exploded, driven by a wave of disposable models from China.

Disposable, flavored vapes are not supposed to be sold in the US, the report noted. The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized only 23 specific e-cigarette products, all of which are tobacco-flavored alternatives to cigarettes and targeted at adults.

It disclosed that about 90 percent of the world’s e-cigarettes come from factories in Shenzhen, China and that there has been a huge increase in the use of disposable vapes by high school students, despite the fact that the FDA has said that it is illegal and contraband.

In the Philippines, the majority of e-cigarettes sold legally and illegally are disposable vapes, which are more attractive and sleeker-looking than their bulkier, refillable counterparts, therefore, easy to sell to a specific demographic type.

Aside from a fairly good margin compared to conventional cigarettes, the “bling-bling” and hip vibes offered by vapes also make it easier to target the youth, one report noted.

The 2019 Global Youth Tobacco survey showed that 14.1 percent of Filipino students aged between 13 to 15 are currently using electronic cigarettes while the Philippine Pediatric Society also found that 11 percent of students between 10 years and 15 years old had already tried vapes.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education recently reported that 6.7 percent of Grades 7 to 9 students had tried or are using e-cigarettes.

With the use of disposable vapes exploding in the country over the past few years, the data could have been much higher by now.

One just needs to scour the major cities of Metro Manila to see the kaleidoscope of vape shops that has mushroomed over the years.

A recent special report on the “Vapedemic” revealed that legitimate e-cigs and vapes are openly sold in convenience stores and vape shops while illegal vapes are most likely sold in dark street corners or in areas with dubious addresses.

Disposable vape devices and pods in very attractive colors and different flavors and at very affordable prices can even be bought from some of the most popular online shopping platforms in the country. You can buy a disposable pod for as low as P59 from supposed online vape shops with flavors like strawberry donut, apple peach, and banana ice.

In March of last year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) urged e-commerce platforms to comply with the new law, to police their sellers, ensure that there are appropriate age verification mechanisms and to take down listings of products which are presented with flavor descriptors that are unduly appealing to the youth, such as fruit, candy brand, dessert, cartoon characters, among others.

Unfortunately, it is still very easy for those under 18 years of age to buy from these online shops.

The DTI said that it has confiscated over 18,000 non-compliant and illicit vape products valued at P5.5 million in recent months. This is nothing, however, compared to the estimated P5 billion to P6 billion a year in revenue losses from illegal vapes.

Last year, tobacco excise tax fell by 16 percent to P134.87 billion from P160.55 billion in 2022. It was also 20.6 percent below the target of P169.86 billion. Such excise tax take is a far cry from the record-high P176 billion posted in 2021.

Decreased tax collections from tobacco impacts every Filipino. Tobacco excise taxes, as mandated by Republic Act 11346, are allocated for Philhealth (40 percent) and DOH-Health Facilities Enhancement Program (10 percent). The remainder goes to the national budget and tobacco-producing provinces to support tobacco farmers.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) blamed the drop-in excise tobacco revenues to the growing vape use, lessened cigarette consumption and also to illicit trade.

We have RA 11900 or the law which regulates the importation, sale, packaging, distribution, use and communication of vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products and novel tobacco products which lapsed into law on July 25, 2022.

But in placing very strict restrictions on legitimate industry players, our legislators may have unwittingly unleashed a monster in the form of disposable vapes.

Maybe it’s high time for our government to join the bandwagon and ban these disposables.


For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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