Three years into his brutal crackdown on drug dealers and users, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has another target in his sights: Vaping.
Duterte, who has already introduced some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in Asia, told reporters at a late-night press conference this week that he viewed e-cigarettes as “toxic” and was going to ban them completely.
“I’m now ordering all law enforcement agencies to arrest everybody vaping in public because, like smoking, you contaminate people,” the president told reporters. He added that the use and importation of the e-cigarette devices would be banned, though he did not say when this would come into effect.
“I will ban it, the use and the importation. I hope everybody is listening. Please relay this to them. You know why? Because it is toxic,” Duterte said.
The president’s comments came just days after the after health authorities in the Philippines reported the nation’s first vaping-related lung injury, which resulted in a 16-year-old girl being hospitalized.
Almost 1,500 cases of vaping related illnesses have been reported in the U.S. in recent months, with 33 deaths associated with vaping, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.
Duterte’s new rules were made in off-the-cuff remarks during a press conference, but he promised to produce a written executive order immediately after his announcement in order to codify the new legislation, but as of Friday morning, no order was in place.
Instead, the police, who said they would enact the president’s demands, are relying on Duterte’s Executive Order No. 26, which bans smoking in public spaces.
But officers have been told that even if they see someone vaping in public, they cannot arrest them. Instead, officers have been instructed to record the person’s name, confiscate their devices, and then set them free.
Adding further to the confusion are local ordinances that do specifically make vaping in public a crime, punishable with a jail term, cash fine, or community service.
Duterte is best-known internationally for a war on drugs that has targeted not only dealers but also addicts, resulting in thousands of deaths, many of them extrajudicial executions. The strongman president, who is an ex-smoker, banned smoking in public places in 2017 which also reinforced bans on tobacco advertising and promotions, all part of Duterte’s drive to impose public order in the mainly Catholic country.
“As you know, nicotine is an addictive devil,” Duterte said on Wednesday. “And if you have to have a fix, well, you have to find some latrine there anywhere, but not in the madding crowd.”
Cover: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at a press conference in Davao on the country’s Mindanao Island on Oct. 6, 2019. (Kyodo via AP Images)