Bangkok, 13 June 2022 – The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) welcomed the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision upholding the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health (DOH) to regulate all products affecting health, including tobacco products. This decision is significant as it quashes a legal challenge by the tobacco industry in the Philippines to undermine the authority of health regulators to do their job of protecting public health.
In 2011, the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), representing the tobacco industry, filed a case in the lower courts to reject the inclusion of tobacco control provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the FDA Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 9711) and thereby prevent regulation of tobacco products by the FDA and DOH. PTI argued that the Inter-Agency Committee-Tobacco (IAC-T), which includes the PTI and is chaired by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), has exclusive jurisdiction over tobacco products. FDA and DOH countered that the DOH retains full jurisdiction in the field of health and, consequently, in the regulation of all products that affect health, including tobacco products.
“It took 11 years to reach a final decision on this case, but this landmark Supreme Court ruling secures the health and well-being of all Filipinos. We must remain vigilant to protect the regulatory power of health authorities over the tobacco industry and reject any form of interference to circumvent or discredit these authorities,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.
The final decision for the case was promulgated on 7 June 2022 and in part reads, “Respondent [PTI], representing major transnational tobacco companies in this country, proposes an interpretation of our law that will effectively remove them from petitioners’ regulation. Its desired interpretation allows for tobacco companies to be principally regulated by the IAC-Tobacco, of which they happen to also be members. This not only leads to an absurd result, but it is also contrary to law and our international obligations.”
The Supreme Court decision also recognizes the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2005, as part of Philippine law, contrary to industry claims that the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (RA 9211) is the primary law regulating tobacco products.
Health advocates consider this a major victory for public health in the Philippines, while Sen. Pia Cayetano, a known tobacco control champion, sees this a win for the future generations.
“It is common sense that these products be subjected to strict regulation by a competent health authority. As principal sponsor of RA 9711 and later, as an intervenor in this case along with Senator Franklin Drilon, I laud our SC for this landmark decision,” Sen. Cayetano said in a statement.
This ruling is timely for the Philippines as there is a pending Vape Bill that also seeks to transfer regulatory powers over e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, despite their known health harms, from the FDA to the industry-friendly DTI. Unless vetoed by the President, this bill will throw open the floodgates to more teens vaping because the bill would also lower the minimum age of access from 21 to 18 years, allow multiple flavors appealing to children, and allow online marketing and sales. The public health community in the Philippines, including DOH, has repeatedly urged President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the bill.
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA
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SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.