THR efforts level up in the Philippines in 2020

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Consumers and tobacco harm reduction (THR) advocates achieved major gains in the Philippines in 2020 as they moved to correct the misinformation sowed by anti-vaping groups, called on health authorities to respect the rights of adult Filipino smokers to choose better smoke-free alternatives to combustible cigarettes, and uncovered the receipt of foreign funds by the very agency that is supposed to draft the regulation on smoke-free products.

In February, they launched #SmokeFree4Life, an Asia-wide education and information campaign that urged the World Health Organization and the Department of Health to respect the rights of Filipino consumers to choose better products.

“We, vapers and former smokers, and advocates of tobacco harm reduction have an opportunity to add to the global discussions on ENDS (as electronic nicotine delivery systems), heat-not-burn tobacco products and snus as much safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes,” said Clarisse Virgino, Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA).

The group supports tobacco harm reduction, a public health strategy which aims to provide alternatives to reduce risks caused by smoking cigarettes. In the Philippines, the movement works and coordinates with consumer groups such as Vapers PH and Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines, as well as the industry group Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association to organize forums, attend and provide inputs in congressional hearings, share insights with the media, and launch educational campaigns to raise public awareness on THR products.

Virgino said they believe that THR products will provide the 15.9 million Filipino smokers an opportunity to switch to substantially less harmful alternatives which are now regulated under Philippine laws.

The #SmokeFree4Life campaign was launched in Makati City on February 28, 2020 or the same day President Rodrigo Duterte made public Executive No. 106 that regulates vaping in the same category as smoking.

EO 106 grouped electronic nicotine/non-nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products together with cigarettes. Under the EO, the minimum age to access both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes was raised to 21 from 18. It prohibits cigarette smoking and vaping in public and enclosed areas such as schools, lifts, and stairwells, fire hazard locations, and medical facilities.

The group supports tobacco harm reduction, a public health strategy which aims to provide alternatives to reduce risks caused by smoking cigarettes. In the Philippines, the movement works and coordinates with consumer groups such as Vapers PH and Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines, as well as the industry group Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association to organize forums, attend and provide inputs in congressional hearings, share insights with the media, and launch educational campaigns to raise public awareness on THR products.

Virgino said they believe that THR products will provide the 15.9 million Filipino smokers an opportunity to switch to substantially less harmful alternatives which are now regulated under Philippine laws.

The #SmokeFree4Life campaign was launched in Makati City on February 28, 2020 or the same day President Rodrigo Duterte made public Executive No. 106 that regulates vaping in the same category as smoking.

EO 106 grouped electronic nicotine/non-nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products together with cigarettes. Under the EO, the minimum age to access both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes was raised to 21 from 18. It prohibits cigarette smoking and vaping in public and enclosed areas such as schools, lifts, and stairwells, fire hazard locations, and medical facilities.

Meanwhile, PMFTC Inc., an affiliate of Philip Morris International, opened its first four IQOS stores in Metro Manila in September to provide better alternatives to adult Filipino smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke or use nicotine-containing products.

PMFTC President Denis Gorkun said the best way to avoid the harms of smoking is to not even start or to quit altogether. “But for those adult smokers who don’t want to quit smoking, smoke-free alternatives represent a better choice than continued smoking.”

He underscored that the company is going smoke-free because “it is the right thing to do and our resources allow for it.”

THR advocates also actively participated in the public hearings organized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October. They lamented, however, that the agency delivered lectures, instead of holding public consultations on the draft guidelines for the regulation of e-cigarettes and HTPs. The FDA was supposed to issue the general guidelines for the implementation of EO 106 and RA 11467 which would affect about one million users of smoke-free products in the Philippines.

The supposed consultations held by FDA on October 6 and October 8 on vapor products and HTPs, respectively, turned out to be one-sided, pre-recorded lectures with cherry-picked questions that ignored the concerns of vapers, skipped scientific evidence, and violated the rights of consumers, according to the stakeholders.

Upon the complaints of consumer groups, the Senate asked the FDA to follow the enabling laws in drafting the guidelines for the regulation of e-cigarettes and HTPs. In the recent Senate deliberations on the budget of the Department of Health (DOH), Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed concern that the FDA was going beyond the enabling law in preparing the implementing rules and regulations for HTPs and vapes.

At the House of Representatives, two congressmen urged the FDA and other regulatory agencies to stop accepting money and return all the funds they received from foreign private groups such as The Union and Bloomberg Initiative.

Deputy House Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano, representing Ilocos Sur’s First District, and Nueva Ecija First District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, filed the resolution directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged “questionable” receipt of private funding by the FDA and other government agencies and institutions in exchange for the issuance of specific and predefined policies against a legitimate industry under Philippine laws and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.

“Until such time as the investigation by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is concluded, Congress calls on the FDA and other recipient-government agencies and institutions to cease, with immediate effect, all contact with all aforementioned foreign groups and to return any foreign monies the agencies have received,” the two lawmakers said in the resolution.

The inquiry stemmed from the admission by FDA officials during a public hearing on October 8 that they received funding from The Union and Bloomberg Initiative which are international private groups that advocate against all forms of tobacco products, including ENDS and HTPs.

The legislators said an investigation should be made on the manner by which the FDA public consultations were conducted and how these private funds could have influenced the same, to the detriment of good regulatory practice, the credibility of Philippine government institutions, and the lives and livelihoods of consumers, citizens, businesses, and stakeholders.

“As the highest policy and lawmaking body under the Constitution, Congress is duty-bound to ensure that any and all forms of government policies and regulations are not being driven by any vested foreign interest. Sovereignty resides in our people and not in any moneyed ideology or movement. As representatives of our people, it is our duty to ensure this,” the resolution stated.


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