Health advocates welcomed the Department of Health (DOH) support to House Bill No. 5589 (HB 5589), otherwise known as “An Act Strengthening The Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco”, which seeks to remove tobacco industry representation from the committee, whose sole function is to implement tobacco control laws. The DOH released a position paper last March 8, 2016, expressing its support to the passage of HB 5589, a measure filed by Ang Nars Partylist that is currently pending in the Committee on Health. The need for bold action to further reduce tobacco consumption and ensure the health of the public is one of the main purposes of HB 5589.
According to DOH, at least eighty-seven thousand six hundred (87,600) Filipinos die every year from tobacco-related diseases, or approximately two hundred forty (240) deaths every day. The Philippines has among the highest smoking rates in the world ranking 9th for men and 16th for women. These figures underscore the urgent need to adopt and implement more effective measures to curb tobacco consumption. The presence of tobacco industry representation in a national committee entrusted to effectively implement tobacco control laws directly contravenes the Philippines’ obligation as a State Party under a global health treaty, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to protect our tobacco control laws from tobacco industry interference.
Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance’s (SEATCA) FCTC Program Director Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo said, “SEATCA commends the Philippine Department of Health’s (DOH) position to support HB 5589 to strengthen the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IACT). In order to comply with its treaty obligations under the WHO FCTC, it is only logical and reasonable that the Philippine Tobacco Institute be removed from the IACT because of the obvious conflict of its vested interests with the government mandate to protect public health. The current situation violates the FCTC and is unacceptable.”
“This campaign period, we challenge the candidates to support the move to remove tobacco industry representation from the IACT. Tobacco use is a serious epidemic and causes entirely preventable deaths and diseases of thousands of Filipinos. The presence of tobacco industry representation in IACT endangers the effective implementation of tobacco control measures, which results to continued suffering to Filipinos because of the diseases and deaths tobacco use brings,” Atty. Irene Reyes, HealthJustice Managing Director added.
After the recent success of the passage of Graphic Health Warnings Law in the country, despite strong opposition from the tobacco industry and their allies, health advocates are hopeful that tobacco control will continue to be a priority of national leaders.