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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Group backs move to block e-commerce platforms selling illegal tobacco products

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Non-government organization Social Watch Philippines (SWP) threw its support behind the proposal of a senior lawmaker to block outright e-commerce platforms for selling illicit tobacco products.

SWP argued that the proposal of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda is a good measure to plug the “digital” loopholes in illicit trade that allowed unscrupulous sellers to reach a “younger populace in a broader yet unregulated market.”

Last week, Salceda disclosed that he is drafting a legislation that would block e-commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee for allowing the sale of illegal cigarettes even to minors. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2023/10/18/solon-threatens-ban-on-shopee-lazada-on-cigarette-sale-to-kids/)

“Regulating in-person sales is already challenging as it is. Handling e-commerce takes more work and technical expertise due to privacy and data manipulation concerns. The tobacco companies have exploited these digital loopholes to reach the younger populace in a broader yet unregulated market,” said SWP Co-convenor Ma. Victoria Raquiza in a news release on Thursday.

“According to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance [SEATCA], the tobacco industry is also the supplier of some counterfeit products traded across online stores. We urge the online shopping platforms to be vigilant and conscientious in their business operations by removing illegal products,” Raquiza added.

Citing the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), the SWP said about 14.1 percent, or one in seven students aged 13 to 15 are currently using e-cigarettes. The SWP noted that the survey revealed how easy it is for the youth to buy tobacco products in the country, with about two in five students who currently smoke (37 percent), saying that it is easy to purchase tobacco products regardless of age.

“Our laws should always be grounded in reality. What are the purchasing habits of consumers? How easy is it to access and falsify information online? How hard is it to monitor these digital shops?” Raquiza said.

“Will our policies evolve quickly enough to address the fast-changing nature of the e-market? We have come a long way in protecting public health against these toxic products. We must create and adopt practical strategies across all online stores to eliminate illegal trade and lower tobacco consumption,” Raquiza added.

Citing Department of Health (DOH) data, Raquiza emphasized that the country already “suffered a loss of P365.79 billion in 2021 due to tobacco-related diseases.”

“The direct medical cost from tobacco use reached P247 billion, the indirect cost due to premature death was P73 billion, and the indirect cost for morbidity was P30.7 billion,” she said.

“While we push for the implementation of existing laws with provisions against illicit trade like the Tobacco Tax Law [RA 11346] and promote proposals such as Salceda’s, we also urge the administration to help provide alternative livelihoods for MSMEs [micro, small,  medium and enterprises] selling tobacco products,” said Raquiza.

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