Philippines, Brunei lead ASEAN in curbing tobacco industry interference

17 September 2016

THE Philippines and Brunei lead their ASEAN peers in efforts to put a check on tobacco industry interference in health governance matters.

According to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance’s (SEATCA) Tobacco Industry Interference Index, the Philippines and Brunei scored the lowest on several indicators of governance and policy making.

Brunei scored 29 points, while the Philippines, 38. The highest scores were for Indonesia (84), Vietnam (76) and Lao PDR (67).

The index ranks countries based on several indicators of tobacco industry interference in health governance matters, ranging from industry donations to partnership in policy-making. Lower scores indicate that governments are successful in curbing tobacco industry meddling on public health policies involving tobacco control.

SEATCA, a regional non-government organization, presented the index during a forum held at the Manila office of the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday. Nine of the 10 ASEAN member-countries were ranked in the index.

Dr. Mary Assunta Kolandai, Senior Policy Advisor to SEATCA, said, government interaction with the tobacco industry requires transparency, thus the need to introduce procedures of disclosure.

The Philippines is seen as a leader in the region, after the government introduced policies meant to curb tobacco industry control of health outcomes. These measures were House Bill No. 5589, known as “An Act Strengthening the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IACT)”, filed by the Ang Nars Party-list and seeks to remove tobacco industry representation in the IACT.

Attorney Krunimar Antonio D. Escudero III, Attorney VI of the Civil Service Commission said the bill will help free IACT from the influence of the tobacco industry.

“Yes, definitely it will help in terms of tobacco control but not totally, because the tobacco industry will be removed from the committee,” he told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of Friday’s forum.

“They lobby with the country’s legislators to advocate for them, that is what’s happening. They have several tactics. The removal of the [tobacco industry] from the IACT is one of the steps in order to lessen the interference they are doing,” Mr. Escudero said.

According to the SEATCA report, the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI) last year successfully lobbied for the Bureau of Customs (BOC) campaign dubbed as “Fight Illicit Trade,” which checked against the proliferation of counterfeit tobacco products in the local market.

SEATCA cited Mighty Corporation’s assistance to government in its campaign against the trade of counterfeit tobacco products.

SEATCA also cited PTI’s lobby to reduce the Department of Health’s authority in implementing Republic Act 10643 or the Graphic Health Warning Law.

The NGO said the tobacco industry also used corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to curry favour with government officials and undermine the implementation of RA 10643.

In its report, SEATCA said Philip Morris International (PMI) has increased CSR spending in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to $2.5 million in 2015 from $1.5 million in 2009.

“The current administration is still in the phase of policy priorities and initiating concrete steps [however] I think the current administration is going to take us on a strong stance on limiting tobacco industry interference and we certainly see that the President has been very active in the fight against tobacco in Davao and the ordinances introduced [there] is a sense of very high commitment to the national level”, Dr. Gundo A. Weiler, WHO Representative to the Philippines, told BusinessWorld.

“There is no single department or agency alone that can take it and we see that there is a good dialogue between the different departments and different sectors in the country and we hope to intensify this

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in the future,” he said, referring to the cooperation needed by different government agencies to curb tobacco industry influence on policy making. —Reniel D. Gloriani