Ex-DOH chiefs, groups hit moves to ease control policies on tobacco

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Ex-DOH chiefs, groups hit moves to ease control policies on tobacco
This undated file photo shows a man smoking a cigarette, part of the tobacco products in the country that government has sought to regulate through banning in public and raising excise tax.
The STAR / file

MANILA, Philippines — Former health secretaries on Sunday led groups in denouncing what they said was the tobacco industry meddling to relax control policies in the country on their products during a health crisis. 

Some 44 groups sought to condemn the tobacco industry's "exploitation" of the coronavirus pandemic through corporate social responsibility and donations, in a bid to "sanitize their name and distract the public from their role in the deaths, injuries, and the ruin of millions, worldwide." 

"Let us be clear: in safeguarding Filipinos' health, tobacco companies are neither allies nor friends," the joint statement read, on the eve of the World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

Doctors Jaime Galvez-Tan, Carmencita Reodocia, Manuel Dayrit, and Pauline Ubial — all who had served at the helm of the Department of Health, were among those who signed the said statement. 

Other signatories were: Dr. Carmelita Canila, who heads the health policy and administration department of the University of the Philippines Manila, public interest law firm ImagineLaw, and groups Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Cancer Society, and the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, to name a few. 

The statement mentioned a move to repeal a joint memorandum circular in 2010 by the DOH and the Civil Service Commission. This prohibited government officials from making unnecessary interaction with the tobacco industry and in turn, prevent it from interfering in policymaking.

Groups said the tobacco industry's public relations or CSRs would not hide the negative effects of their products to Filipinos yearly, or 117,000 dying and P210 billion in economic losses from hospitalization and productivity. 

They added that the said industry should be held liable for exposing smokers and non-smokers more to severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

"We urge our government leaders, officials, and legislators to remain steadfast against moves by the tobacco industry and their fronts to ease policies on tobacco control," groups said. "In fact, these policies should be upheld and their implementation strengthened."

Lawyer Anna Bueno in a commentary wrote of documents that would show the tobacco industry's move to advance its interests. Bueno is part of ImagineLaw, the law firm among those signatories to the statement.

The statement continued as stressing that government has the duty to protect the public's health, and this would be at risk should policies against interference are removed or weakened.

"Removing this important wall between the Philippine bureaucracy and tobacco influence is serving Filipinos’ health on a silver platter to the tobacco industry and its profit-driven interests," groups said on the DOH-CSC joint memorandum circular. "We urge our leaders: public health over profit."

In January last year, the STAR citing government figures, reported that a low 4% of the country's smoking population quit the habit, despite official regulations set on tobacco products. 

The Duterte administration had banned smoking in public and hiked excise tax on tobacco in a bid to discourage nicotine addiction.





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