By: Jocelyn R. Uy
MANILA, Philippines–Antismoking groups on Wednesday warned the government against participating in the three-day tax forum being held in India, saying it is a tobacco industry trap meant to sway government policies on public health and tobacco control in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to HealthJustice, New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP) and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca), the 12th annual Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, held from May 5 to 7 and organized by the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC), received funding from giant tobacco companies.
The groups identified these companies as Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco Ltd., British American Tobacco and JTI Group.
They also noted that the website of ITIC, described as a known tobacco industry front group, claimed that government delegations, including from the Philippines, have confirmed their participation in the forum.
“The forum serves as a venue for the tobacco industry front group to influence governments in the Asia Pacific region… a clear violation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Irene Reyes, managing director of HealthJustice.
Reyes added that the forum was also an infringement of a joint memorandum circular of the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health issued in 2010, which requires government officials to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
“Philippine delegates must keep in mind their obligation to protect life-saving tobacco control measures against the interference of tobacco companies. Public health interests should always be prioritized over the commercial interests of the tobacco industry,” added NVAP president Emer Rojas.
The groups also pointed out that the World Bank and India’s finance minister had formally withdrawn their participation from the tax forum.
If traditionally conservative institutions like the World Bank “have seen through” the ITIC and its objectives, the government should not allow itself to be a party to the event, stressed Reyes.