Cayetano slams country’s ‘balanced approach’ in restricting tobacco industry

22 February 2024

By HeraldExpress

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday slammed the country’s push for a ‘balanced approach’ on the tobacco industry, saying the reality is that Filipino tobacco farmers earn a tiny fraction compared with what the tobacco moguls get.

The independent senator made this statement during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s probe on the ‘Dirty Ashtray’ award on February 21, 2024. This was the first hearing led by his sister, Senator Pia Cayetano, as committee chair — first woman to hold the position.

The ‘Dirty Ashtray’ award is described as a “public shaming tool that calls out countries influenced by lobbying from the tobacco industry.” The Philippines received it at the recently concluded Tenth session of the Conference of Parties (COP10) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) held in Panama City from February 5-10.

“Let’s not say we are protecting the tobacco farmers here,” Cayetano said as he pointed out the lopsidedness of the country’s ‘balanced approach’.

“Only P1 billion goes to the farmers but P159 billion goes to the tobacco capitalists. Kulang pa nga iyan kasi iyan lang y’ung net income nila,” he added.

Cayetano pointed out that the country spends P300 billion a year on health-related efforts and the tobacco industry is making P160 billion a year.

“This means we are spending P140 billion over what the industry is making,” he said.

Cayetano arrived at this calculation after he asked National Tobacco Administration (NTA) Chief Belinda Sanchez for data such as how much the farmers and the tobacco industry are earning annually.

He also asked Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Lilibeth David for statistics on how much the country spends to curb tobacco-related diseases.

Sanchez said there are at least 20,000 families involved in tobacco farming. She said their average income is at P50,000 a year, while the tobacco industry earns P160 billion annually. 

David, meanwhile, said the country uses 4.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

“The problem for me is we present ourselves as anti-tobacco, but we are pro-tobacco,” Cayetano said in frustration. 

“Very glaring y’ung math. Why don’t we have a plan?” 

He then urged the government to have a shift in policy to support the tobacco farmers.

“We can help the farmers to plant something else. Marami pong technology [na available] ang Thailand, Vietnam, Israel. We have the money to support the farmers, “ the senator said.

He also said providing P10,000 per month to farmers will only cost the government P2.4 billion per year.

Cayetano also stressed the need to restrict the tobacco industry, which includes vape and e-cigarette products, as hundreds of Filipinos die daily due to smoking.

“This is a sensitive issue because every single day, 321 Filipinos die habang hindi natin sinosolve ito,” he explained.

“I don’t think we can solve the tobacco problem in three to five years, maybe 10 years if we really work on it. But every single day we delay, ganito karami ang namamatay. At ito lamang ang stats na tobacco-related,” he added.“Unless we have a program for the tobacco farmers to get richer, to shift and unless we block the tobacco lobby, many people will die because of tobacco related disease,” Cayetano said.