Filipino consumers asked President Rodrigo Duterte to stop foreign vested interest groups from influencing the Food and Drug Administration, which is tasked to draft regulation on vape and heated tobacco products in the Philippines.
The Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines made the call after the Philippines FDA admitted to have received grants from foreign anti-tobacco advocacy groups The Union and Bloomberg Initiative.
“We appeal to President Duterte to rescind the foreign grants received by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration which cast a dark cloud on the agency’s role as an independent regulator and protector of public health,” said NCUP president Anton Israel.
The FDA admitted receiving grants from foreign groups when confronted by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing during an online public consultation on e-cigarettes and HTPs. Thhe admission prompted Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano to move for the suspension of the consultation, and call for a full-blown House probe on the matter citing conflict of interest.
“The FDA receiving money from foreign vested interest groups is a clear violation of the code of conduct for public officials which is a ground for the filing of anti-graft cases with the Ombudsman,” Israel reiterated his group’s earlier pronouncement.
They previously threatened to file an anti-graft case with the Ombudsman “if the FDA ignores the views of legitimate and impacted stakeholders and proceeds with the adoption of an administrative order lifted from the playbook of their anti-tobacco patrons.”
Israel said stakeholders trust the president’s uncompromising stand against any form of graft and corruption. “He has many times called on government officials to faithfully serve the public without fear or favor. From the start, the FDA has shown favor to its foreign benefactors to the detriment of Filipino consumers and interests,” he said.
Clarisse Virgino, the Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates said, “It comes now as no surprise that the Administrative Order drafted by the FDA, if adopted, would virtually constitute a de-facto ban on vapes and HTPs. The FDA agenda is crystal clear. For the 16 million Filipino smokers, the only option is to quit or die. To the 1 million vapers, go back to smoking cigarettes.”
Virgino said that solicitation or acceptance of gifts is prohibited under Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, especially if it involves a piece of regulation.
She said they were “shocked and aghast by the admission of the FDA that they received money from the Union and Bloomberg Initiative. These groups are known advocates of prohibition for all forms of tobacco products including better alternatives to cigarettes like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.”
“This is simply a case of American businessmen spurned in their own country dictating on a Philippine regulatory body what rules it should implement and how they should regulate a particular industry in complete disregard of science and consumer rights,” Israel said.
“It is clear that funds received from anti-vaping groups would jeopardize FDA’s treatment of tobacco harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes and HTPs,” Virgino said.
Following the suspension of public hearing, consumer, advocacy and industry groups also expressed dismay with the FDA’s acceptance of the grants from The Union and Bloomberg, and its handling of what some described as a “moro-moro” public consultation.
“The imposed limitations during the public consultation made it challenging to discuss extensively and thoroughly the crucial provisions of the proposed guidelines. In coming up with a regulation that has the potential to positively change the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers, we, the stakeholders, were expecting a more transparent and participatory process,” Peter Paul Dator of Vapers PH said.
Dator said “all we ask for are transparency and inclusion in the discussion because we, the consumers, are the ones directly affected by these guidelines, and not the pharmaceutical or medical groups who have no stake in the issue.”
Joey Dulay, president of the Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association said during the public consultation that they were saddened to hear that the guidelines were “based on the recommendations of only the medical NGOs. We are [vapers and industry] the ones most affected with these guidelines and should be heard and considered also.”
“E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are not pharmaceutical products and should not be regulated as such. What we need is a fair and risk-proportionate regulation that will encourage smokers to reduce their exposure to smoke which is the one that causes all these diseases,” Virgino said.
The groups called for impartial and reasonable regulations based on scientific evidence.
Dr. Lorenzo Mata Jr., president of the advocacy group Quit For Good, said: “Science, and there is an abundance of curated and peer-reviewed studies out there, should be the basis of regulation. Not political or ideological agenda.”
Mata said they have been advising the FDA that regulation should be based on the risk profile of products.
“The greater the risk to one’s health, the stricter the regulation, not the other way around. The World Health Organization has in fact conceded before the Philippine Congress that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than cigarettes. So why regulate them the same as cigarettes?” he said.
“The vaping industry is being treated unfairly. We are not the enemy here. Combustible cigarettes that bring 88,000 deaths per year are our common enemy. Why is vaping treated worse than smoking?” Dulay asked.
Dator said they were hoping that in the succeeding dialogues, “the FDA officials will open their minds, listen to scientific evidence, and do their job of regulating, and not restricting the use of these novel products, as our existing laws intended.”