A customer at a vape store in Manila on November 20 2019, just hours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would ban e-cigarette use. Picture: AFP/DANTE DIOSINA JR
A customer at a vape store in Manila on November 20 2019, just hours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would ban e-cigarette use. Picture: AFP/DANTE DIOSINA JR

Manila — Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said he will stop the importation of e-cigarettes and prohibit their use in public after a teenager contracted a lung illness tied to vaping.

“I will ban it, the use and the importation,” Duterte said at a televised briefing on Tuesday evening. “I am now ordering the law enforcement agencies to arrest anybody vaping in public.” E-cigarettes contain “nicotine and other chemicals that we do not know”, he said.

The ban comes days after the department of health said a teenager in central Philippines, who’s been vaping for six months and also smoking cigarettes, was diagnosed with a lung injury. The case is likely to be the first known in Asia of the mystery illness that’s killed almost 40 people in the US and afflicted nearly 2,000.

The outbreak has swiftly turned global regulatory attitudes against the nascent e-cigarette industry. Once thought of as a useful tool to help smokers quit, vaping is now banned by about 30 countries, including India and Brazil.

Duterte’s pronouncement is unexpected, as Philippine finance secretary Carlos Dominguez said last month that a ban on e-cigarettes is unlikely but that they may be slapped with higher taxes. The Philippines was seen by e-cigarette makers such as Juul Labs as one of the promising markets in Southeast Asia.

In a text message on Tuesday, Dominguez asked lawmakers to pass a proposal seeking higher taxes on e-cigarettes pending Duterte’s executive order on the ban.

LT Group, the holding company of billionaire Lucio Tan whose tobacco unit is the Philippine partner of Philip Morris International, climbed for a second day, rising as much as 2.9% in Manila on Wednesday. JG Summit Holdings, whose unit partnered with Juul to bring its products to the Philippines, fell as much as 1%.

Smoking in enclosed public spaces is already banned, implemented by Duterte less than a year into his term that started in June 2016.

Unknown cause

The department of health issued a statement on November 15 saying a 16-year-old was admitted to intensive care in October after experiencing sudden shortness of breath. She was diagnosed with the “vape-associated lung injury” that matched criteria from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and discharged after being treated.

The CDC has struggled to identify the precise cause of the US outbreak and hasn’t yet blamed a single product or type of device, though chemicals in vaping liquids from black market sources or used with cannabis-derived THC have drawn scrutiny.

The illness has so far been limited to North America, and specialists believe deaths elsewhere are likely to be rare in countries where suspect products, such as THC, are banned, according to a Reuters report last month.

At the unscheduled Tuesday briefing, Duterte also said he will suspend the importation of rice during harvest season to help the local farmers. He also warned vice-president Leni Robredo, whom he designated earlier this month to co-chair a government body against illegal drugs, not to reveal confidential matters.

With Andreo Calonzo, Cecilia Yap and Colin Keatinge

• Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, has campaigned and given money in support of a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes and tobacco and supports efforts to reduce global demand for tobacco worldwide.