House suspends public consultations on vape, heated tobacco
MANILA, Philippines — Two members of the House of Representatives recently moved to suspend public consultations on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admitted receiving funds from foreign anti-tobacco groups — namely, The Union and Bloomberg Initiative.
The issue of a potential conflict of interest came out last Oct. 8 during a virtual public consultation on the proposed General Guidelines for the Regulation of Heated Tobacco Products, according to a statement issued by the lawmakers.
Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing asked FDA representatives if the agency had received any funding from any international organization.
At first, the FDA officers, whom the statement did not identify, denied receiving any funds. But Suansing pointed out that Bloomberg did issue a grant to the FDA, which she said provided support to “the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drugs Administration.”
“This includes supporting the implementation and notifications mechanisms for regulating tobacco product packaging and labeling, TAPS, tobacco product content and disclosure, and illicit trade,” she added.
Confronted by this, the FDA representatives admitted receiving the grant.
Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano, head of the tobacco-growing Northern Luzon Alliance, then moved to call for a full-blown House investigation on a potential conflict of interest arising from funding received by the FDA from the foreign groups.
In crafting policies of national relevance, Suansing stressed the importance of transparency and fairness.
According to the FDA, the NTCP is under the Department of Health, which also received grants for the project.
Suansing then cited a statement posted at the website of The Union, which says:
“The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program, which awards funds to projects delivering high-impact tobacco control interventions in low- and middle-income countries. In 2019 The Union launched the Global Implementation Programme, which supports cities to effectively implement tobacco control laws, and we are a key partner in STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog. Both projects are also funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.”
“Isn’t this a conflict of interest because you are funded by Bloomberg for the National Tobacco Control Program? Isn’t this a conflict of interest in coming up with this regulation?” Suansing said.
“This grant might have pushed the policy directions for the regulations. This is important to us,” she added.
She then asked for a copy of the grant from the FDA for transparency.
“They are giving grants to a government agency and that is a public document, a grant to the national government through a national agency. S o it’s a public document,” she pointed.
Savellano took the same position, lamenting that the virtual setup of the public consultation did not allow them to see the people answering the questions during the discussion.
“We are here to solve something, pero eto tayo nagtatago [but here we are hiding],” Savellano said referring to FDA personnel conducting the public hearing. “We have the right to know who we are talking to from the FDA.”
He suggested that the consultation be canceled and reset for another meeting.
“In my case, I would file a resolution calling for a congressional investigation regarding this matter. (If) we are not answering questions, may tinatago tayo [we are hiding something],” he said.
“FDA must not proceed until the House investigation is concluded,” he added.
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