Northern Samar 2nd District Rep. Emil Ong assailed the alleged interference of “tobacco monopolists” in health and revenue policies as he urged the government to ensure compliance with the treaty the country ratified in 2005 with the World Health Organization-Frame Work Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FWCTC).
Ong, a member of the House ways and means committee, cited the findings of the Tobacco Industry Interference Index recently released by the WHO-FWCTC showing the Philippines ranked third with a dismal performance rating of 71 due to the interference of tobacco “monopolists.” Indonesia was given a rating of 78; Malaysia, 72; Cambodia, 68; Laos PDR, 61; Thailand, 51; and Brunei Darussalam, 29.
The interference index is the first attempt at grading countries in their implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO-FWCTC that seeks to limit interference by the tobacco industry in the setting and implementation of health policies by governments.
It ranks the countries based on the level of industry interference, from highest to lowest.
The Thailand-based South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca) said pro-tobacco lobbyists “maneuver to hijack political and legislative processes; water down legislations to make them less compliant with tobacco control measures; exaggerate economic benefits of tobacco; and manipulate public opinion.”
Seatca noted that tobacco control was needed especially in Southeast Asia where three of the world’s top five cigarette manufacturers dominate markets.
“The industry will not stop its disruption of government efforts to promote public health through tobacco control,” Seatca said. “This index shines a light on where the interferences are.”
Southeast Asia is home to about 127 million smokers or 10 percent of the world’s tobacco consumers. It sees about 400,000 preventable tobacco-related deaths per year.
Citing the Seatca report, Ong said countries with high levels of unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry have high levels of industry participation in policy development. The report showed that there is no system that prohibits the industry from making contributions to political parties, and governments do not require full disclosure of such.
In 2010, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Department of Health issued a joint memorandum prohibiting government officials from interacting with the tobacco industry except when strictly necessary for the latter’s regulation.
It also bars them from soliciting, accepting, “directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value in the course of their official duties or in connection with the operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office from any person or business related to the tobacco industry.”