Public health advocates expressed growing concern over the health and welfare of young Filipinos as the escalation of influence by the tobacco industry threatens to hijack their future. In fact, advocates fear that the downward trend of smoking in the country will be reversed and that more young people will get addicted to nicotine products if the situation is unhindered. The unease becomes more significant with the upcoming celebration of National Children’s Month in November.
This comes after the findings of the 2022 and 2023 Tobacco Industry Interference (TII) Index Report revealed that the tobacco industry’s tactics to interfere with public health policies and hamper the government’s tobacco control efforts keep worsening over the years.
“When you endanger our children’s health, you compromise our nation’s future. The tobacco industry has proven just how relentless they use their political and marketing machinery to assert their interests via interactions with the government. We need to stop tobacco companies from targeting children and youth, especially through online platforms, in the propagation of their deadly vapes and cigarettes,” said Mr. Rom Dongeto, Convenor of the Child Rights Network and Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development.
According to the 2022 and 2023 TII Index Reports, the Philippines’ score has consistently climbed at an upward trend year after year. This indicates the increasing influence of the tobacco industry and, in turn, shows how the government is failing to combat the interference.
The figures made leaps from 45 in 2017 to 54 in 2018 and 57 in 2019. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, scores rose to 54 in 2020 and 58 in 2021. By 2022, the country’s score was up another notch at 59 and moved up further to 60 in 2023.
The scoring measures the severity or frequency of incidents when the tobacco industry meddled into government affairs which include their active participation in Congress hearings to relax tobacco control measures and align it with their business agenda, as well as, their generous contributions to various LGUs in the guise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, to name a few.
“The TII Index results explain how government offices are influenced in policy development and implementation by the tobacco industry. We have existing rules, yet we see tobacco and vape products proliferate to target children. The tobacco and vape industry have become insidious and aggressive at exploiting gaps in our laws. We should not be complicit to the tobacco industry in harming our children. We urge the government to act swiftly and decisively and implement our tobacco and vape control laws,” said Atty. Benedict Nisperos, legal consultant of HealthJustice.
Evidence of interference were gathered from publicly available and verifiable information from reliable news outlets and official websites for the period of January 2021 to June 2022 and July 2022 to March 2023. These were then validated by civil society organizations and public health advocates using the questionnaire score sheet provided by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
The results for the Philippines, unfortunately, accompany the worsening scores of 7 other countries in the 2023 Asian TII Index Report by SEATCA.
“Sadly, the Philippines ranked seventh after Japan (worst score), Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Bangladesh, and Lao PDR in failing to prevent and effectively address tobacco industry interference. Deteriorating scores were also noted for Maldives, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Cambodia, and Korea. Governments must triple their efforts to protect the bureaucracy from undue influence and interference of the tobacco industry. This is fundamental to achieve successful tobacco control and public health outcomes,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.
The Philippines is a signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the world’s first health treaty. The TII Index Report is an annual civil society-led assessment that gauges how effectively or poorly the Philippines is implementing WHO FCTC Article 5.3 and its Guidelines which particularly obliges all parties “to protect their tobacco control and public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”
Media Consultant, HealthJustice PH