ImagineLaw raised warning of tobacco’s influence

Public interest law organization ImagineLaw on Tuesday warned against tobacco industry interference in the country’s health system, during a symposium with global and local public health experts organized with the Department of Health (DOH).

“The Philippine government and the health sector should be more vigilant against attempts by the tobacco industry to influence policymaking and ease tobacco control in the country,” remarked Atty. Sophia San Luis, Executive Director of ImagineLaw.

“As signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the country should strengthen measures in upholding and promoting public health by protecting the bureaucracy from unnecessary interaction and undue influence from tobacco companies and their fronts,” she added.

The DOH for their part reiterated their commitment to the WHO FCTC and the promotion and protection of the country’s public health system.

“The Philippines has made great strides in implementing policy reforms that aim to reduce the burden of tobacco use,” remarked DOH Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire. “However, continued interference of the tobacco industry undermines our tobacco control initiatives in the country,” she added.

Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-001

Citing the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-001 (JMC 2010-001), Usec. Vergeire reported that there was still a recorded steady increase in the scores of the Philippines in the Tobacco Industry Interference Index from 2017 to 2019.

In fact, the CSC-JMC 2010-01, which prohibits government officials and employees from interacting with the tobacco industry, recently came under fire from some legislators, calling for its repeal with some citing it as ‘unlawful and unconstitutional.’

“[The JMC] protects the bureaucracy from tobacco industry interference which includes prohibitions on unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry, preferential treatment to the tobacco industry, accepting gifts, donations, and sponsorships, conflicts of interest in engaging in an occupational activity with the tobacco industry,” detailed Usec. Vergeire.

Moves to repeal the JMC will be detrimental to public health and will open Philippine bureaucracy to tobacco interests, according to ImagineLaw. “The move to repeal the JMC is in the interest of the tobacco industry. If we remove this important wall between the Philippine bureaucracy and the tobacco influence, we will be serving the health of Filipinos on a silver platter to tobacco companies,” explained San Luis.

Tobacco control champion and Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, in his message, emphasized the need to insulate policymaking from tobacco industries. “The effort to protect the people’s health is a threat to the industry’s health,” he said.

“The true beneficiaries should be the people. We should be biased towards [people’s health],” Biazon added.

At the latter part of the symposium, San Luis added that “the tobacco industry delayed and continues to delay important interventions that would have saved people from the negative health impact of smoking.”

“We saw how the tobacco industry has employed tactics and strategies to deny liability for the millions of deaths that it caused, but also to continue to sell a harmful product at the expense of public health, even amid a pandemic,” she also said.

Before the symposium ended, the Department of Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones, through Bureau of Learner Support Services Director Lope Santos III, emphasized that the education sector of the Philippine government is doing its best to protect a population that is being targeted by the tobacco industry to be their next generation of consumers.

“Outside the school, we need policies such as the CSC-JMC 2010-01 that will protect the youth from being lured away from making healthy choices. As long as the tobacco industry opposes our respective mandates and challenges our common commitment to protect the health and welfare of our people, they will never be an ally of public health or public education,” said Director Santos. 

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