TOBACCO farmers said the government needs to crack down on illegal vape products, calling them a threat to growers’ livelihoods.

“Illegal vapes further endanger the livelihood of thousands of Filipinos who rely on the tobacco industry for sustenance since these are replacing legal, tax-paid cigarettes as well,” Philippine Tobacco Growers Association President Saturnino Distor said over the weekend.

Mr. Distor added that the smuggled cigarettes have also reduced demand for locally produced tobacco leaf.

Republic Act 11900, or the Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act, regulates all imports and manufacturing of vaporized nicotine, non-nicotine, and novel tobacco products.

“Unlike heated tobacco sticks, vapes do not contain dried tobacco leaves and have no direct benefit to tobacco farmers… We need the help of the government to stop this ‘vapedemic’ and save the tobacco industry,” he said.

Separately, Bernard R. Vicente, chairman of the Federation of Tobacco Farmers Associations and Cooperatives, said that as consumers switch to vape products, demand for tobacco leaf continues to decline.

Mr. Vicente added that support from local government units in tobacco-producing areas has declined due to the lower excise taxes collected on tobacco products.

Under Republic Act No. 11346, 40% of tobacco excise taxes are earmarked for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and 10% are for the Department of Health’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program.

The remainder goes to the national budget and tobacco-producing areas to support farmers.

“Less excise tax collections from tobacco means less support for us farmers,” Mr. Distor said.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue reported a 16% decline to P135 billion in excise tax collections in 2023. This was attributed to an increase in the smuggling and distribution of illegal cigarettes and vape products.

Meanwhile, the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) said that tobacco prices have risen to more than P100 per kilogram (kg) due to high demand.

The NTA reported that the buying price for Class AA of flue-cured Virginia tobacco was as high as P113 per kg, well above the approved floor price of P97 per kg.

Prices for the prime class of both air-cured Burley-type tobacco and Native–type tobacco is expected to hit P100 per kg. The approved floor price for these varieties is P81 per kg.

“The tobacco buying price increase reflects market demand and crop quality as well as the presence of good weather and the increase of floor prices,” NTA Administrator Belinda S. Sanchez said in a statement last week.

Trading of flue-cured Virginia tobacco runs between February and June, while air-cured Burley and Native tobacco leaves trade between March and July.

Ms. Sanchez added that tobacco production may surpass the 43 million kg reported last year.

The major tobacco producing areas are Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Abra, Pangasinan, Isabela, and Cagayan.

The NTA said 2.2 million Filipinos are financially dependent on tobacco, including more than 430,000 farmers, farm workers, and their families. — Adrian H. Halili