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Tobacco lobby hit for meddling in gov’t policies

/ 08:14 AM August 09, 2014

AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—A lawmaker has urged the government to closely monitor the alleged interference of some tobacco companies in the health and revenue policies of the government as the new law requiring graphic warnings on cigarette packs took effect on Friday although the warnings will not appear for almost two years.

Health officials are blaming the pressure from a powerful tobacco lobby for the delay.

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Northern Samar Second District Rep. Emil Ong, a member of the powerful House ways and means committee, cited the findings of the Tobacco Industry Interference Index that was released by the World Health Organization’s Frame Work Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FWCTC) showing the Philippines ranked third with a dismal performance rating of 71 due to tobacco monopolists’ interference.

The Philippines followed Indonesia at 78 and Malaysia at 72. Cambodia was at 68; Laos at 61; Thailand at 51; and Brunei at 29.

The interference index is the first attempt at grading countries in their implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO-FWCTC which seeks to limit interference by the tobacco industry in the setting and implementation of health policies by governments around the world.

It ranks the countries based on the level of industry interference, from highest to lowest.

No choice but accept Health officials said they had no choice but to accept the delay in use of the health warnings on cigarette packets.

“We wanted only a six-month (transition) period. But that is what the legislators said. There is nothing we can do,” the head of the Department of Health tobacco control office, Marilisa Calvadores, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

President Aquino signed the bill into law in July after political wrangling by a government that discourages smoking even as it encourages a politically powerful tobacco-growing industry.

The warnings will not appear on cigarette packs until about May 2016, Calvadores said.

“The rationale was to give cigarette manufacturers a chance to use up the supplies that are already in the market,” she added.

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Emer Rojas, head of the New Vois Association, an antismoking group, said a powerful bloc of legislators from tobacco-growing regions had successfully watered down the law.

“This (law) was a compromise but it is far better than nothing. It is in the right direction but there are features we don’t like,” he told AFP.

The law mandates that the graphic warnings, showing the harmful effects of smoking, should cover the bottom half of the cigarette pack.

Rojas described the provision giving cigarette companies 20 months to put out the warnings and exhaust their stocks of unmarked packs as “delaying tactics.”

Water down legislations

The Thailand-based South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca) said protobacco lobbyists “maneuver to hijack political and legislative processes; water down legislations to make them less compliant with tobacco control measures; exaggerate economic benefits of tobacco; and manipulate public opinion.”

Seatca noted that tobacco control was needed especially in Southeast Asia where three of the world’s top five cigarette manufacturers dominate markets.

“The industry will not stop its disruption of government efforts to promote public health through tobacco control,” Seatca said, adding: “This index shines a light on where the interferences are.”

The region is home to about 127 million smokers or 10 percent of the world’s tobacco consumers. It sees about 400,000 preventable tobacco-related deaths per year.

In the Philippines, Seatca said a representative of a giant multinational tobacco company sits in the interagency regulator created under Republic Act No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003.

The antitobacco group noted that there was a high level of unnecessary government interactions with the industry, as well as participation of the industry in policy making.

Officials of the country’s tobacco industry association could not be contacted for comment.

Just over 28 percent of all adults in the Philippines smoke, and an average of 240 Filipinos die every day from smoking related diseases, according to the WHO.

In 2013, Aquino, who has been chided for his inability to quit smoking, signed a “sin tax” bill dramatically raising the taxes on tobacco products. With AFP

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TAGS: cigarettes, Emil Ong, Graphic Warnings, tobacco, Tobacco Lobby
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