Tobacco-control advocates want industry booted out of policy body

THE SOUTHEAST ASIA Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) recommended that the Philippines remove the tobacco industry’s representation on the Inter-Agency Committee overseeing tobacco regulation, after the country continued to score poorly in measures of the industry’s influence on government.

According to the Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2015 Association of Southeast Asian Nations report evaluating the implementation of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3, the Philippines continue to “fare poorly” in the area of tobacco industry participation in policy development.

Asked what could the Philippines do to improve, Dr. Mary Assunta, SEATCA senior policy adviser, said the tobacco industry “can’t be part of the interagency committee, that’s one recommendation.”

Under Republic Act No. 9211, a representative from the tobacco industry is a member of the Inter-Agency Committee-Tobacco (IAC-T), which has exclusive powers to regulate the packaging, use, sale, distribution, and advertisement of tobacco products.

Lawyer Krunimar Antonio D. Escudero III of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) testified that a pending measure at the House of Representatives will seek the removal of the industry’s representative to the IAC-T.

According to the report, the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI) uses its position as an IAC-T member to actively weaken tobacco control policies, citing the example of an institute letter to the Trade department regarding its position on the draft Graphic Health Warning Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

“The DTI echoed the position of PTI during the IRR Committee meeting in 2014,” it noted, adding that prior to the enactment of the Graphic Health Warnings Law, the weaker provisions included the small size and placement of the warnings.

Another recommendation of Ms. Assunta is a ban on tobacco industry-related corporate social responsibility activities (CSR).

The CSC issued in a 2010 Joint Memorandum Circular outlining a code of conduct which bans government officials from receiving or supporting tobacco-industry related CSR activities, Mr. Escudero said.

The report said the Philippines, like Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, showed slight improvement in its effort in the implementation of Article 5.3, which requires governments to protect health policy from the influence of “commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

On the other hand, the report noted that Brunei continues to deliver the best performance while there was slight worsening of Indonesia’s situation.

The Philippines ranked third from bottom in Southeast Asia in terms of implementation of protective measures. — Kathryn Mae P. Tubadeza

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