ONLINE vendors should make sure cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are sold only to customers over the age of 18, the Trade department said on Monday as the government considers a ban on online sales of the so-called “sin” products.

“We allow only those (online sellers) asking for age and only DELIVERING to buyers with the right age (to operate),” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a text message to reporters on Monday.

Mr. Lopez reiterated the government may ban online sales of cigarettes, liquor, e-cigarettes and similar devices if the vendors are not properly registered, if they do not check the customer’s age, and if the products did not pass the regulator’s standards.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said over the weekend they will move to ban online sale of these sin products if vendors are found to be selling these to people under 18 years old.

PMFTC, Inc., a joint venture of Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing, Inc. and Fortune Tobacco Corp., said the company is implementing an “age-gating” rule for online resellers of its cigarettes so minors cannot access them.

PMFTC Communications Director Dave M. Gomez said online resellers are also required to ask customers to provide a document proving their age before they can receive the product.

“For online commerce, resellers of cigarettes should strictly observe youth access prevention by having age-gating on their sites and require proof of age upon delivery. This is our policy,” he said via e-mail on Monday.

“The law is clear. It is unlawful to sell cigarettes to individuals below 18 years old whether in person or online. We understand the concern and agree that cigarettes should not be sold to minors even online,” Mr. Gomez added.

Mr. Lopez said they are now in discussion with the Department of Finance (DoF) on setting up a system where online selling platforms register with the Department of Trade (DTI) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to make sure that they are tax compliant and conduct a customer check from point of sale up to the receipt of goods.

“If it is allowed in brick-and-mortar (stores), it must be allowed in online, AS LONG AS Registered and standard compliant and original products are sold especially on sin products because any fake item means tax evasion. This is to ensure all sales are tax paying,” the Trade chief added.

Philippine laws prohibit the sale of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages to minors.

BusinessWorld sought comment from alcohol industry groups and e-commerce platforms but received no response as of writing.

In June, the BIR issued Revenue Memorandum Circular (RMC) No. 60-2020 giving online sellers until July 31 to register their business with the bureau or update their registration.

DoF and BIR are now studying how to tax the digital economy. The DoF estimated the government could raise an incremental revenue of P14-17 billion from the 12% VAT charged on online transactions. — Beatrice M. Laforga