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Groups urge DOH, FDA to stop asking funds from foreign groups trying to sway PH policies

/ 12:24 AM April 22, 2021
Logos of groups pushing for safer alternatives to cigarettes and other tobacco products

These groups are pushing for safer alternatives to cigarettes and other tobacco products.

MANILA, Philippines —  The Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should stop soliciting money from foreign charities such as Bloomberg Philanthropies so that they could be objective in regulating electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs), consumer advocacy and industry groups said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

According to the statement, the FDA admitted during a congressional probe last March 16 that it applied for a grant in 2016 from a foreign anti-tobacco organization — the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies — to fund the drafting of vape and heated tobacco policies. The FDA said it received the money the following year.

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This prompted three groups advocating safer alternatives to cigarettes to raise the alarm on foreign vested interest groups that try to influence local regulations.

These groups are Vaper Ako, Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP), and the Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association (PECIA).

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“The FDA, an attached agency of the DOH which was tasked to prepare the implementing guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs, should have not approached and collected money from The Union and Bloomberg Philanthropies in the first place, because these organizations were known for advancing their own anti-vaping agenda globally,” Anton Israel, NCUP president, said.

Joey Dulay, president of PECIA, said the FDA should prove its independence by drafting regulations that would be fair to consumers.

“We hope that the FDA will recognize our rights as consumers of safer and innovative products,” Dulay said.

Joaqui Gallardo of Vaper AKO said Congress should consider passing laws that prohibit foreign nongovernment organizations with vested interests from providing grants to regulatory agencies in the Philippines, such as the FDA.

According to the consumer groups, The Union publicly advocates on its website banning the sale of e-cigarettes and HTPs in low- and middle-income countries — such as the Philippines — which are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s smokers.

“Now that we know that the FDA received money from these anti-vaping groups, the least the FDA could do is immediately cut ties with Bloomberg Philanthropies to remove any suspicion on and reassert its autonomy as a regulator,” Israel said.

“This is important because the FDA was identified by several recently passed laws to draft the regulation on, and not ban, safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes. Restricting the use and sale of these innovative products that are equivalent to a ban would be contrary to the intent of the laws,” he added.

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According to the consumer groups, it was FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique Domingo who told the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability at the hearing last March 16 that his agency applied for and received a grant of $150,430 from The Union mainly to hire “job order” employees who would draft the tobacco control policies of the agency.

“We worked with the World Health Organization, the Asian Development Bank, and nongovernment organizations such as the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union),” the groups quoted Domingo as saying during the hearing.

The FDA said that The Union gave the grant in February 2017  for a project called “Strengthening the Regulatory Systems on Tobacco Control under the Food and Drug Administration.”

“Obviously, there is a conflict of interest in the case of the anti-vaping Bloomberg Philanthropies providing grants or technical assistance to the FDA in the drafting of regulations on vaping and HTPs. We need a law to make sure it won’t happen again,” Gallardo said.

In the past two years, Congress passed laws such as Republic Acts No. 11347 and  11467 while President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 106 to allow the regulated sale, distribution, and taxation of vapor and HTPs in the Philippines.

The FDA was tasked with preparing the implementing rules and regulations of the measures.

On Dec. 1, 2020, the FDA issued Administrative Order No. 2020-0055 for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs, with an effectivity date of  Jan. 14, 2021, and full enforcement date of May 24, 2022.

Gallardo said AO 2020-0055 turned out to be more restrictive than the regulations for cigarettes.

“This would discourage smokers from switching to less harmful alternatives to cigarettes,” he said.

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TAGS: DoH, FDA, foreign anti-tobacco groups, heated tobacco products, regulation of tobacco products, safer alternatives to cigarettes, vape
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