The Philippine public health agency, PH FDA, received money from lobby groups to push a harder line on e-cigarettes. An investigation revealed this in the autumn. And now there is growing criticism from international experts.
"Legislative entities must have a high level of public trust. Accepting money from groups that have an interest in changing legislation in a particular direction destroys that trust. In this case, the money comes from Bloomberg Philanthropies. They have a stated agenda to limit the availability of products that can reduce the risks of nicotine use." says David Sweanora Canadian lawyer who has been active in global tobacco control for several decades, told the magazine Maharlika TV.
From prohibition to regulation
The debate on e-cigarettes in the Philippines has been turbulent in recent years. President Rodrigo Duterte went so far as to banning e-cigarettes entirely in 2019. The Minister of Health, on the other hand, proposed heavy regulation instead of a ban.
In the autumn of 2020, the Philippine government decided that regulate alternative nicotine products in a similar way as in the European Union. The new law includes age verification requirements for sales (18 years), advertising bans, nicotine warnings on packaging, and extensive product registration for both e-liquid and electronic parts. At the same time, vejping will be banned in public places.
One million people using e-cigs
The Philippines currently has around 16 million smokers and 88,000 die annually from cigarette-related diseases. According to the organisation Quit for Good over one million Filipinos use e-cigarettes. And the new laws will hit both companies and users hard, says the organisation.
"One million Filipinos use vejp products to stay away from cigarettes. While we see more and more evidence that e-cigarettes are indeed a less harmful alternative, the health authorities seem to want them to go back to smoking again." Says the doctor and president of the association, Lorenzo Mata to the Manila Bulletin newspaper.
The legislation has been shaped by guidelines from the health authority, PH FDA. And according to Lorenzo Mata it is disproportionately harsh in relation to the costs and benefits. few risks associated with e-cigarettes.
"They want to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as new medicines. But we're not talking about medicines here, not even close. The legislation will put many small businesses out of business and prevent new companies from entering the market," said Mr Perez. Lorenzo Mata
Received large sums of money
During a hearing on the Philippine Department of Public Health's new guidelines on tobacco and nicotine products, it was revealed that the department has been receiving large sums of money by the organisations The Union and Bloomberg Initiative. These organisations are in turn funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and American millionaire Michael Bloomberg. Michael Bloomberg is known for actively fighting the tobacco industry, but also focuses on alternative nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and snus. That equate vejping and e-cigarettes with regular smoking. is something that the Blomberg Foundations often advocate.
Also funds the WHO
Through its contributions to various organisations, including World Health Organisation (WHO), Bloomberg Philathropies has great influence on tobacco control worldwide. At the same time, a growing number of health researchers find Bloomberg's negative attitude towards alternative nicotine products problematic. Fighting the development of e-cigarettes does more harm than good, according to several researchers and commentators.
"This is not charity but pure colonialism. It is a moral agenda that will deprive smokers of the opportunity to improve their health by switching to less harmful products," says the author. Michelle Minton to Maharlika TV.
"Trampling on human rights"
Michelle Mintonwho works on freedom and rights issues at the US Department of Justice. Competitive Enterprise InstituteThe Blomberg foundations are pure lobbying organisations that do not care about the real needs of the countries where they have influence.
"In many countries, where access to traditional cessation methods is limited, harm reduction products have an important role to play. Restricting the availability of low-risk alternatives is a violation of smokers' human rights," said Mr Perez. Michelle Minton.
Several Filipino politicians have now called for an investigation into the nature and purpose of the Blomberg Foundation's funding of the PH FDA. The fact that an external organisation tries to control authorities may prove to be a legal offence, both in the Philippines and the USA.
"We need to know how much money is involved, both in dollars and as part of the agency's budget. And we need to know if the funding has had any quid pro quo or stated purpose. This could lead to legal consequences." Says Dr Joel Nitzkin, chair of the US Tobacco Control Task Force, which works on harm reduction in the US, to Manilla Standard.
"As bad as the tobacco industry"
He is joined by Scott D. Ballinwho previously handled tobacco regulation at the US FDA.
"If the money had come from the tobacco industry, there would have been an outcry from all the world's health stakeholders. But this is no less worrying" says Scott D Ballin to Manilla Standard.
He now hopes that the Philippine government will dig deeper into the matter. And that other health authorities around the world are vigilant against inappropriate outside influence.
"Policy and legislation should be based on transparency and sound science. Accepting money without disclosing its purpose or counterclaims is definitely a problem. This is both ethical and legal," says Scott D Ballin.
1.5 billion to ban flavours in e-cigs
As a foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies has given over a billion dollars to tobacco control organisations around the world. The foundation is behind the organisation Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has influence over many similar anti-tobacco movements around the world. In 2019, Michael Bloomberg announced that the foundation is investing 160 million dollars (1.5 billion SEK) in a campaign to ban flavours in e-cigarettes in the US. To date, a number of states have introduced bans which is in line with the campaign.
Update 23 March 2021: Since the revelation, the Philippine FDA has recognised that it sought and received the corresponding 1.3 million by the Bloomberg Foundation The Union. The aim is to hire staff to draft legislation on e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products.