Pressure mounts on Lazada, online sites as medical group appeals to gov’t to curb illicit tobacco and vapes

April 26, 2023 People's Journal 730 views

CigarettesAMID Lazada continuing to carry illicit tobacco and vape products, a medical group has called the attention of government agencies to the continuous proliferation of these unregistered and non-compliant products on popular online marketplaces.

“We are bedazzled why these non-compliant, unregistered and possible non-tax paid tobacco and vapor products are allowed to be openly advertised, sold and distributed in the local market, especially online,” the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said in a letter addressed to Senator Pia Cayetano.

It also sent copies of the letter to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and other relevant agencies.

Lazada, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Asia, continued to carry listings of unregistered and unverified vape products despite the warning issued by the DTI against the sale of illicit tobacco and vapes online.

The DTI, through its Consumer Protection Group, held a dialog with high-level e-commerce industry representatives to address the spread of prohibited vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products advertised and sold online.

The PMA particularly asked the government agencies to “stand together and act against illicit tobacco and vapor products” on Lazada, Shopee and Facebook Marketplace to protect the public from harm.

Shopee reported the removal of more than 1 million prohibited vape listings from its website a day after the meeting with DTI. Lazada, however, has yet to report on its action.

In its letter, the PMA cited Cayetano for her “unwavering commitment to protecting the welfare of the Filipino people, particularly with regards to the issue on tobacco and vapor products” and her committee for exposing the “huge presence of illicit vapor products in the Philippine market, particularly those found in online platforms.”

The group expressed alarm at illicit and unregistered tobacco and vape products dodging regulatory oversight and thus endangering the public. The group’s letter referenced numerous postings on e-retailer platforms of tobacco and vape products that do not bear Philippine graphic health warnings and are sold below retail value.

It said there is no way to verify if the products sold are registered and paid the correct taxes… as they do not bear the internal revenue stamps nor the required packaging or labeling requirements.

“Raising the issue on illicit tobacco and vapor products and calling for the full implementation of the tax and regulatory laws on these products is crucial in protecting the interests of the government and the public,” it said.

The PMA said that as higher excise taxes were levied on vaporized nicotine and non-nicotine products since 2020, there was “no reason why any importer or manufacturer will be able to evade paying taxes three years later.”

It also asked Cayetano to intercede with the DILG and all local chief executives to actively campaign against illicit vapor products.

Taguig City serves as the headquarters of e-commerce giants Shopee, Facebook and Lazada. Taguig Mayor Laarni “Lani” Cayetano is Pia Cayetano’s sister-in-law.

In a public hearing conducted in February 2023 by the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Future Thinking chaired by Cayetano, the DTI said it had issued show cause orders to regional and provincial offices of online selling platforms to boost its campaign against the sale of vape and e-cigarette products that are found in violation of Republic Act (RA) 11900 or the Vape Law.