MANILA – Philippine public health advocates raised alarm over findings of a global report that the tobacco industry has remained relentless in their lobbying efforts to influence health-related policies and introduce new addictive products in 2019, enabling them to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The advocates were likewise saddened that the Philippines fared even poorer in the recent report, slipping from 14th to 19th.
“The declining rank of the Philippines in the Global and Regional Tobacco Industry Interference Index is alarming. It reflects aggressive actions from the tobacco industry in weakening our law prohibiting public officials from having unnecessary interaction with it,” said Atty. Karl Carumba of HealthJustice Philippines.
Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a global health treaty of which the Philippines is a party, states that “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” This is the reason it is crucial that attempts of the tobacco industry to influence policies are monitored; and the industry called out for doing so.
Released by STOP, the global report which looked at industry interference data in 57 countries, used data from the Philippine study conducted by HealthJustice Philippines showing that instead of slowing down, the industry in fact became more aggressive in interfering with policies aimed at regulating their products, scoring 57 in 2019 as compared to only 54 in 2018 and 45 in 2017. A higher score meant more incidences of interference.
The Philippine report looked at seven areas of interference: level of participation in policy development, so-called-CSR activities, benefits to the tobacco industry, forms of unnecessary interaction, transparency, conflict of interest and preventive measures. It found that the industry scored highest in tobacco industry participation in policy development and in various forms of unnecessary interaction. Activities under industry participation in policy development include allowing or inviting the tobacco industry to sit in government interagency bodies that set public health policy among others, among others. Meanwhile, examples of unnecessary interaction include, among others, accepting assistance—monetary or otherwise—from the tobacco industry and government officials attending social functions or events sponsored or organized by the industry.
An example of how the tobacco and vape industries are trying to influence government policies is the passage of the E-cigarette Regulation Bill in August 2020 by the Committee on Trade and Industry of the House of Representatives. The bill that was passed lowers the age of access on electronic cigarettes from 21 to 18 years old, clipped the power of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the product, and will allow more flavors to be sold.
“It is obvious that the industry has a hand in drafting the said bill,” said Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, former Secretary of Health. “We must note that the President just recently signed Republic Act No. 11467 in January 2020 that not only increased the excise tax on e-cigarettes but more importantly it put in place strict regulatory provisions on the use of the product.”
“At a time when we should be encouraging and supporting smokers to quit, the tobacco industry has put their PR machines on overdrive to highlight their supposed good deeds while their other arm is moving to upend cigarette regulation and regulatory boards. We call on the government and the public to remain vigilant against these moves by the industry. We also remind the government of its obligation to protect our tobacco regulatory policies from interference,” said Mary Ann Mendoza, President of HealthJustice.
For a full copy of the Philippines TII Index Report 2020, please click here.
For a full copy of the ASEAN TII Index Report 2020, please click here.
For a full copy of the Global TII Index Report 2020, please click here.