MANILA, Philippines – The Agro-Industrial Productivity Exponents (APEX) and the Philippine Association of Tobacco-Based Cooperatives (PATCO), the biggest organizations of tobacco farmers in the country, said the tobacco industry is more than just for cigarette making as they took exception to Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral’s claim that the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) was being “inadvertently used” by tobacco companies to circumvent law by undertaking programs with them to promote their interest.
Cabral cited as an example the Miss Virginia Tobacco 2009 search held last year as part of the weeklong Tobacco Festival in Candon City, Ilocos Sur which she said was graced by NTA Administrator Carlitos Encarnacion, Deputy Speaker Eric Singson and Philip Morris executive Chris Nelson.
The health secretary claimed in a news report that the festival gave undue promotion to the tobacco companies which she said violated R.A. 9211 (Tobacco Regulation Act) specifically the ban on cigarette advertising and promotions.
Alejandrino Reyes, PATCO president and APEX leader, disputed Cabral’s statement that NTA’s job was “not to protect and promote the tobacco industry but to help the tobacco growers find alternative source of livelihood.”
Reyes said the NTA charter enshrined under E.O. 245 which was issued by late President Corazon Aquino chiefly mandates the agency “to improve the economic and living conditions and raise the quality of life of tobacco farmers including those who depend upon the industry for livelihood; and, to promote the balanced and integrated growth of the tobacco industry to help make agriculture a solid basis for industrialization.”
According to the PATCO chief, the conduct of the Miss Virginia Tobacco pageant is part of the culture and tradition in the northern region that began during the days of the Philippine Virginia Tobacco Administration (PVTA), NTA’s predecessor.
Candon City which is the country’s biggest tobacco producer has revived the tradition by sponsoring a yearly Tobacco Festival and the beauty contest under the auspices of Deputy Speaker Singson to celebrate the tobacco season.
NTA corporate planning manager Rex Teoxon, defended the agency’s participation in the festival saying NTA, as the sole government agency dealing on tobacco, can not afford to refuse the invitation of Candon officials to attend the tobacco festival that is specifically dedicated for the tobacco industry.
“As the sole regulatory agency of the government on tobacco, the NTA promotes and protects the welfare and interest of the stakeholders of the tobacco industry. It keeps the balance between and among the tobacco industry stakeholders that include the tobacco farmers, the tobacco buyer firms, the cigar and cigarette manufacturers,” Teoxon asserted.
He assured Cabral of NTA’s readiness to comply with whatever laws, regulations and policies or programs adopted by the government on tobacco, and as long as they do not run contradictory to its mandate under E.O. 245.
The NTA executive maintained that while the tobacco agency endorses government policies or programs intended to protect the public from the perceived deleterious effects of cigarette smoking, it also abides by the balanced policy mandated under Republic Act 9211 (Tobacco Regulation Act), whereby “the use, sale and advertisements of tobacco products shall be regulated in order to promote a healthful environment and protect the citizens from the hazards of tobacco smoke, and at the same time, ensure that the interests of the tobacco farmer, growers, workers and stakeholders are not adversely compromised.”
He said the NTA continues to register its vehement objection against the use of the word “tobacco” in all campaigns and matters that refer to “cigar/cigarette smoking.”
“This is because tobacco has more beneficial uses,” he stressed. Through NTA’s R&D activities, it was learned that the agency was able to discover and develop other industrial uses to tobacco that include its use as organic mollusicide to control snails and predators and at the same time as fertilizer to promote the growth of ‘lablab,’ natural food of fishes, in fresh and brackish water fishponds.
Other beneficial tobacco products discovered were virgin pulp for various types of paper; tobacco extract as organic pesticide for mangoes, vegetables and ornamentals, to solve the problem of high pesticide residue; tobacco handmade papers and handicrafts; and, pharmaceutical and veterinary products (pediculicide, animal soap and shampoo).