(Manila, Philippines) – HealthJustice Philippines, a public health policy think tank with legal expertise in tobacco control and health promotion, launched last September 7 at Novotel Manila Araneta Center the Tobacco Industry Interference Index Philippine Report 2018, which revealed, among others, that “tobacco companies continue to participate and exert influence in public health policy development and implementation.”
“Over the years, Tobacco companies keep on killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. In 2015, the Philippines ranked 3rd highest percentage of youth smokers in South East Asia. Tobacco companies are intentionally and increasingly influencing civil servants and public officials in the national and local levels with impunity to do it.” Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan remarked.
The annual report gauged the extent of industry interference in the Philippines, which is prohibited by the country’s treaty obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
“The report revealed some obvious forms of industry interference in the Philippines,” Former Civil Service Commissioner and HealthJustice President Mary Fernandez-Mendoza said. “This report for instance, recounted how House Bill No. 4144, backed by local tobacco firm, Mighty Corporation, almost became a law in 2017.”
“The said bill recommended a small tobacco tax rate increase and a return to a complicated taxation system. Our recommendation is to increase the tobacco tax rate to at least PhP 60/pack or higher with an 11% annual increase after the first year in order to effectively reduce smoking prevalence in our country by 2022” Ms. Fernandez-Mendoza added.
The report also enumerated several incidents of “unnecessary interactions” with the tobacco industry such as invitations extended to the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), an association of the largest cigarette makers and retailers in the country, to participate in local and national policy deliberations. PTI was present in the House of Representative committee hearing on the amendment of the Tobacco Regulation Act last September 23, 2017.
“This important report further shows that government responses to tobacco industry interference have been inadequate due to various reasons” Ms. Fernandez-Mendoza commented.
“Among these reasons are the loopholes that tobacco companies exploit in their use of front groups like the Wong Chu King Foundation for the now-defunct Mighty Corporation and the American Chamber of Commerce, for PMI.”
For his part, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Executive Director Dr. Ulysess Dorotheo asserted during the launch that “The tobacco industry must be rejected or else tobacco industry will continue to push anti-health agenda to extract more money from the Filipinpo people.”
“The government and civil society must collectively be vigilant against industry interference, especially with the recent call to further increase sin tax to fund UHC in the Philippines.” he added.
The report recommends to the government the need to strenghten the monitoring and reporting system for violations to policies preventing tobacco industry interference such as the DOH-CSC Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-001, and review existing policies in order to address the interference of groups that promote alternative tobacco products (e.g. electornic cigarettes).
HealthJustice Philippines is a Bloomberg Awardee for Global Tobacco Control. It is a member of the NCD Alliance, an international network experts, advocates and organizations working to decrease the burden of non-communicable diseases worldwide.
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