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MANILA, Philippines - In a rare move by an international institution, the World Health Organization has accused the tobacco industry of interfering in political systems in the world, including the Philippines.
In a global brief entitled “Tobacco Industry Interference,” the WHO said the industry allegedly uses six tactics to thwart tobacco control measures being implemented by governments. These include alleged involvement in the political and legislative process, “exaggerating the economic importance” of the tobacco industry, and intimidations through filing suits against governments.
These three tactics, according to the WHO, are present in the Philippines.
The tobacco industry continues to employ “underhanded tactics to interfere with tobacco control policies, and this usually involves for example, plans to hijack political and legislative processes such as moving forward with this tobacco sin tax law,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher of the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative during a recent press briefing.
The WHO said passing the sin tax law will decrease the current number of 2 million Filipino smokers by 2016, and discourage smoking among children. One in every three Filipino children aged 13-15 is a smoker.
The Department of Health admits that the tobacco industry in Philippines, said to be the strongest lobby in Asia, had been involved in anti-smoking measures. Health Undersecretary Paulyn Jean Ubial cited as an example Republic Act 9211 or the Philippine Tobacco Regulations Act approved in 2003 where the industry sits as a member of an interagency committee that monitors the law’s implementation.
Ubial said the version passed by Congress during that time was a “watered down” version of the DOH’s document because it did not contain provisions such as those pertaining to graphic health warnings and a total ban on tobacco advertising.
She also criticized the industry for intimidating the DOH with lawsuits to stop the department from implementing tobacco control measures.
Dr. Susan Mercado, team leader of the Tobacco-Free Initiative of the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office, said the involvement of the industry in government extends as far as campaign contributions, “secret bills,” and supporting politicians’ projects.
“These are not unique to the Philippines. I think we have not seen the full strength of the tobacco industry yet,” she warned.
Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, WHO’s country representative to the Philippines, urged the government to “resist these efforts of the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policies.”
“The tobacco industry should never be consulted in any of the tobacco excise tax reforms for public health,” he said.
Bettcher said the tobacco industry is only interested with profit and does not care that its products are responsible for the 10 Filipinos who die every hour due to smoking-related diseases.
“The tobacco industry is a mercenary industry. It’s an industry with no ethics and is only interested in generating profits for itself,” he lamented.