Tensions ran high between the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) during the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The two government agencies did not see eye to eye on key issues involving novel tobacco products.
As a result, the Philippines received the most number of “Dirty Ashtray” awards from the five-day conference: one for insisting on amendments “with unhelpful and often confusing wording,” another for attempting to block progress at COP on the eleventh hour, and for using the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) burden management to “ignore” the FCTC despite “links between tobacco, non-communicable diseases, and COVID-19.”
The “dirty ashtray” award is given to “parties acting on behalf of big tobacco and other bad behavior” by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a coalition of more than 300 organizations from 100 countries for tobacco control.
The DFA-led Philippine delegation did not share a unified stance with the Health department from issues involving the tobacco industry’s role in public health to the health effects of e-cigarettes.
VERA Files Fact Check tracked their statements here:
What does the opposing stand of the DFA and DOH mean for the Philippines?
Several public health groups, including former health secretaries, urged President Rodrigo Duterte to designate DOH “as the permanent lead in advancing public health interests” at the WHO FCTC.
“Rather than praising the tobacco industry, all government agencies should commit to stronger tobacco control policies and protect these policies against the deceitful tactics and strategies of tobacco companies,” they said in a Nov. 14 joint statement.
Debunking the Philippine delegation’s position as voiced out by DFA, the experts underscored the “insufficient scientific evidence” and the lack of medical consensus supporting the claims that electronic smoking products are “safer or healthier alternatives or that they help smokers quit.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., however, said during the virtual global conference that a “total ban is not in the works, nor the extinction by extreme taxation.” He added, “Bans will only drive operators underground and substitute smuggling.”
Duterte had signed into law four components of eight tax reform packages, including two that increase ‘sin’ taxes on liquor, tobacco, and e-cigarettes, based on a VERA Files tracker of his 2020 State-of-the-Nation Address promises. (See SONA 2020 Promise Tracker: Economy)
While Locsin claimed that taxation measures “ban the sale of e-cigarettes and flavorings on vapor products to minors,” the House of Representatives passed a bill on third reading in May this year lowering the minimum age of those who can access novel tobacco products to 18 years old from 21 under the existing law. Its Senate counterpart is being debated in plenary.
DOH and other advocacy groups have been pushing for an age limit at 21 years, given the potential health harms of novel tobacco products on a younger age group. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: What lowering age restrictions on e-cigarette smoking means for the youth)
“The three Dirty Ashtray Awards received by the Philippine delegation at COP9 constitute a black mark on our efforts to curb the rising number of deaths caused by the tobacco industry,” the public health experts said, lamenting that “professional opinion of doctors and health experts, and even national government health authorities are sidelined and ignored” in the presentation of the country’s position.
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Editor’s note: VERA Files is part of Project Seeing Through the Smoke, which has support from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Inc (The Union) and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
WHO FCTC, Philippines – Statement WHO FCTC Global Progress Report 2021, Nov. 8, 2021
Department of Health, DOH OPPOSES AND DISSOCIATES FROM STATEMENT OF PH DELEGATION IN FCTC COP9, Nov. 10, 2021
ImagineLaw, https://www.facebook.com/imaginelawPH/photos/a.733768756786738/1984402991723302/, Nov. 14, 2021
Duterte on banning e-cigarette products
- Reuters, Philippine leader says to ban ‘toxic’ e-cigarettes and arrest users, Nov. 20, 2019
- Philippine News Agency, Duterte orders total ban on use, import of e-cigarettes, Nov. 20, 2019
- The Straits Times, Philippines’ Duterte to ban ‘toxic’ e-cigarettes and arrest users, Nov. 20, 2019
Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 11467
Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 11346
Official Gazette, Executive Order No. 106
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)