Last week, public health group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) released the U.S. Tobacco Industry Index 2020, which documented how American tobacco companies continue to work behind the scenes “to kill, weaken, or delay legislation proven essential to reducing tobacco use.”1
The Index used internal tobacco documents, made public by court order, to describe how and why tobacco companies have meddled with the process of enacting effective tobacco control laws. This includes industry efforts at fighting stronger regulations of electronic cigarettes.
The report features several case studies that are particularly telling half the world across and Filipino advocates for public health have a lot to learn from ASH’s investigation on the billion-dollar transnational tobacco corporations’ persistent attacks on evidence-based policy.
ASH reported that in 2019, the tobacco industry spent $28,085,063 on lobbying, up from 2018, and this money has been effective in many instances. In various states, the e-cigarette industry (mainly through JUUL, the biggest e-cigarette producer in the U.S.) tried to weaken regulation by lobbying for “bad bills”—bills that appeared to regulate products but, in reality, introduce ineffective and unscientific measures or substitute effective strategies with rules that are difficult to enforce.2
In Arkansas, for example, JUUL successfully lobbied for legislation that included language preempting local governments from enacting any laws on the manufacture, sale, storage, or distribution of tobacco products, including restrictions on flavored tobacco products. In Arizona, Marlboro-maker Altria and JUUL backed a “bad bill” that would have blocked cities, towns, and counties from regulating the sale of tobacco products. According to ASH, the Arizona bill “would have overridden virtually every local regulation now in existence, ranging from how far tobacco shops have to be from schools to enhanced penalties for retailers who sell to anyone who is underage.”2
A More Upfront Lobbying in the Philippines
In the Philippines, both tobacco and e-cigarette industries have employed—and continue to employ—the same tactics.
Instead of employing lobbyists, however, the industry appears to be more upfront, direct, and open in the country. Tobacco industry representatives have been a constant presence in meetings and hearings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, often invited as resource persons with their contingent of lawyers and public relations staff. In many cases, the industry has even brought with them common folk allegedly affected by strict tobacco regulations—ordinary hardworking Filipinos, whose lives, they assert, would be destroyed by stronger public health laws.
The Philippine version of the 2020 Index, which HealthJustice released last September, provided an example with the recent tobacco tax increase and e-cigarette regulation.3
During the deliberation for additional “sin taxes,” alleged local business groups, farmers’ groups, sari-sari store owners, karenderya operators, and retailers expressed opposition to further increases in tobacco tax. They cited usual industry arguments: that would result in higher incidence of illicit trade, displacement of farmers, and exacerbation of their increasingly difficult situation. They echoed the same sentiments at how increased tobacco taxes will kill their livelihood. Despite the theatrics, however, Republic Act No. 11346 passed, eventually confirming the many misinformation behind both industry and front group claims.
The efforts to preempt regulation, just like the United States’ experience with JUUL, have also appeared in the country’s legislature.
In an earlier report, HealthJustice found that during the 17th Congress, six bills were introduced to adopt industry positions on e-cigarette and heated tobacco product (HTP) regulation, including the choice of regulatory entity (the Department of Trade and Industry, instead of the Department of Health or its attached agencies). Three bills even suggested the influence of the tobacco industry in their drafting as they were especially designed and oriented to favor the IQOS brand, the flagship HTP of tobacco giant Philip Morris International.4
Discrediting the FDA’s Regulatory Powers
The united and concerted action of public health advocates and champions, as well as the solid support of pro-health legislators in both House of Representatives and the Senate, have defeated many of these industry’s lobbying activities.
This year, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11467, which, for the first time, provided express statutory authority to the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address the growing e-cigarette epidemic in the country, especially among the youth. The law mooted many of the industry’s lawsuits in various courts in the country, which argued that FDA had no power to govern their practice.5
The law gave FDA power to regulate various aspects of e-cigarette and HTP production, trade, and marketing. The President even issued Executive Order No. 106 to stamp down on unregistered e-cigarettes and to limit their use and marketing.
Unfortunately for FDA, both tobacco and e-cigarette industries cannot handle this defeat. The regulation is a major blow to their bottom-line. The ban on flavors is a particularly sore point for these companies.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the FDA has recently been the target of an aggressive campaign against its positions on regulating e-cigarettes and HTPs.
A resolution has been filed in the House of Representatives telling FDA to stop accepting donations for technical assistance on tobacco control and regulation from the Bloomberg Initiative and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease,6-7 philanthropic organizations that have long and well-documented partnerships with the World Health Organization (WHO) and many countries in strengthening the enforcement of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).8
The House Resolution painted the technical assistance as a form of “foreign interference” and an affront to the independence and sovereignty of the country,9 despite treaty obligations under the WHO FCTC to promote “the widest possible international cooperation and the participation of all countries in an effective, appropriate and comprehensive international response” against the spread of the tobacco epidemic.
The attack on FDA is also ironic considering its rationale: transparency and public accountability.
The resolution reads, in part: “[A]s the highest policy- and law-making body under the Constitution, Congress is duty-bound to ensure that any and all forms of government policies and regulations are not being driven by any vested foreign interest. Sovereignty resides in our people and not in any moneyed ideology or movement. As representatives of our people, it is our duty to ensure this.”9
This plays well to the intention of the industry to dismantle government regulations over e-cigarettes and HTPs, especially by an agency which obviously knows the detrimental impacts of these products to public health. The FDA’s commitment to its mandate sees to it that it places paramount importance to the welfare of young Filipinos, who are the most vulnerable to these new modes of lifelong nicotine dependency.
The House Resolution is a misdirection. Tactics like this are within the arsenal of Big Tobacco to distract policy makers and the public on their cruel business practice of hooking new nicotine addicts to perpetuate their commercial success,10 which kills over 8 million people all over the world every year.11
Public health advocates and civil society organizations must not participate in this circus. Instead, champions for the public good must continue to shed light on what the real issue is: e-cigarettes and HTPs are not safe. These novel tobacco products have not been proven to be effective as a smoking cessation intervention. On the contrary, these products have been designed to attract the youth in line with the tobacco industry’s long standing global strategy of turning children into “replacement smokers.”12-14
1 Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), “National Index Shines a Light on Tobacco Industry Interference in Lawmaking” (December 8, 2020). Available at https://ash.org/2020index/.
2 ASH, U.S. Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020. Washington, D.C.: ASH (2020).
3 HealthJustice Philippines, Tobacco Industry Interference Index: The Philippine Report on the Implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Quezon City: HealthJustice Philippines (2020). Available at http://www.healthjustice.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Tobacco-Industry-Interference-Index-2020.pdf.
4 HealthJustice Philippines, Tobacco and E-Cigarette Industry Interference in Public Health Policy in the Philippines. Quezon City: HealthJustice Philippines (2019). Available at http://www.healthjustice.ph/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Tobacco-and-E-Cigarette-Industry-Interference-in-Public-Health-Policy-in-the-Philippines.pdf.
5 HealthJustice Philippines, “Philippines Empowers FDA to Strictly Regulate E-Cigarettes” (November 30, 2020). Available at http://www.healthjustice.ph/?p=2681.
6 “House leader seeks probe on grants given to FDA by anti-tobacco groups,” Manila Standard (October 11, 2020). Available at https://www.manilastandard.net/business/biz-plus/336495/house-leader-seeks-probe-on-grants-given-to-fda-by-anti-tobacco-groups.html.
7 “Solons file resolution to probe FDA’s acceptance of foreign funds,” Manila Bulletin (December 6, 2020). Available at https://mb.com.ph/2020/12/06/solons-file-resolution-to-probe-fdas-acceptance-of-foreign-funds/.
8 WHO, “Tobacco Free Initiative.” Available at https://www.who.int/tobacco/about/partners/bloomberg/en/.
9 House Resolution No. 1396 (“A Resolution Directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to Conduct an Inquiry, in Aid of Legislation, on the Questionable Receipt of Private Funding by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Other Government Agencies and Institutions in Exchange for the Issuance of Specific and Pre-Defined Policies Directed Against a Legitimate Industry Under Philippine Laws and in Complete Disregard of the Rights and Welfare of Consumers”) (December 2, 2020). Available at http://www.congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_18/HR01396.pdf.
10 WHO, Tobacco industry interference with tobacco control. Geneva: WHO Press (2008). Available at https://www.who.int/tobacco/publications/industry/interference/en/.
11 WHO. “Tobacco” (May 27, 2020. Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco.
12 HealthJustice Philippines. “E-Cigarettes and Heated Tobacco Products are Harmful; Keep Them Off Our Children” (November 21, 2020). Available at http://www.healthjustice.ph/?p=2674.
13 WHO. “WHO statement on heated tobacco products and the US FDA decision” (July 27, 2020). Available at https://www.who.int/news/item/27-07-2020-who-statement-on-heated-tobacco-products-and-the-us-fda-decision-regarding-iqos.
14 Truth Initiative. “E-cigarettes: Facts, stats and regulations” (December 2, 2020). Available at https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/emerging-tobacco-products/e-cigarettes-facts-stats-and-regulations.
Download Here: .2020 US-PH TII Index Write-Up 12.18.2020 ABN v3 (no mark-up)