July 14, 2021 at 08:05 pm
Ray S. Eñano
Cigarette companies have seen the writing on the wall. The younger population comprising mainly of the Gen Z and millennial generations prefer a healthy lifestyle.
The cigarette makers, thus, began to understand the preference of the two new generations, and the only plausible way to keep the younger market is to fittingly evolve into a broader healthcare and wellness firms.
Major tobacco firms are proceeding with this paradigm shift consistent with a thrust to change their image. The switch to less health harmful products and the intentions of the tobacco companies, unfortunately, are being ignored by the Department of Health.
Cigarette firms, for one, have tried to lend a helping hand to the government in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines has been grappling with the pandemic for over a year now, with communities facing rising infections. The economy sank into a steep recession last year, with the government still caught between further reopening the economy and reverting to stricter lockdown rules.
Tobacco firms offered their own help to alleviate the situation. But certain people in the government shunned the assistance.
The Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability of the House of Representatives recently called out the the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration for the perfidy of the two agencies when they aggressively pushed for legislation to pass the Civil Service Commission Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2010-01, prohibiting government offices from interacting with the tobacco industry.
House members immediately found the JMC discriminatory. It is alienating legitimate industries from helping in the war against COVID-19. The House hearings have also discovered the hypocrisy of DOH and FDA—both are soliciting and using funds from foreign advocates to back the JMC, thus clearly influencing the government’s policy determination.
The JMC was supposedly based on Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) which the Philippines is a party to. But Article 5.3 merely seeks to preserve the integrity of the legislative process to avoid “subversive” tactics. It was not meant to exclude the tobacco industry from interacting with government agencies.
The FDA and DOH abused the intent of the JMC by excluding the tobacco industry in discussions with the government in policy determination and is preventing the industry from contributing in the communities where it operates.
Both agencies last year pushed hard to exclude the tobacco industry from the campaign to procure and donate vaccines in the country, despite its legitimacy and being regulated under RA 9211 (Tobacco Regulation Act).
Both agencies rejected, among others, the outright the donation of 370 respirators by the Lucio Tan group, which is identified with the tobacco industry sector. The donated respirators remain in the DOH warehouse unused, despite the national health emergency, and greenlight from the Civil Service Commission.
During a House committee hearing, members of Congress were livid to find out that the procurement of ventilators, much needed life saving devices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, were blocked.
Rep. Jericho Nograles
described the FDA and DOH actions as “disappointing” as the government’s top priority should be “to save lives, not push for an advocacy that rejects any help to save lives.”
Rep. Sharon Garin
called the priorities of the FDA and DOH “distorted,” for refusing donations of machines, vaccines,and PPEs, while advocating for NGOs “who have never given us anything other than funds for your issuances or public consultations.”
The House committee hearings also opened a can worms. They discovered a questionable receipt of private funding to the FDA and DOH in exchange for the issuance of policies directed against a legitimate industry.
The DOH and FDA admitted in the hearings that they are receiving financial grants from known tobacco control advocates such as the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the “Union”) and Bloomberg Philanthropies (“Bloomberg”) (“Foreign Funders” collectively).
The Union and Bloomberg are known tobacco control advocates the give out funding and grants to entities, whether government or non-government, for purposes of getting governments to enact strict tobacco policies.
The FDA received US$150,430.00 from the Union in 2016 for a project titled “Strengthening the regulatory systems on tobacco control” to be implemented from 2017 to 2020.
Rep. Dante Marcoleta
lambasted the impropriety of accepting and soliciting funds for purposes of regulation of a legitimate industry “because the money being solicited is coming from the advocate that bans and prohibits the use, manufacture, and the sale of a product in this country.”
The committee has noted that there is no current legislation that supports the approach of the JMC to prohibit the tobacco industry from interacting with government agencies and officials. Hence, the JMC has no legal basis to exclude or alienate the tobacco industry.
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