Painful Pinoy Policymakers

Posted 13th June 2019 by Dave Cross
The Philippines Department of Health (DOH) has driven through measures to place higher excise tax on tobacco products each year. The move has been described as a ‘win-win’ solution for public health by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Shamefully, this follows an unwarranted attack on tobacco harm reduction by the DOH issuing an factually flawed administrative order.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Gundo Weiler welcomed the tax hike, saying “It’s a win for health of course because we are saving real lives. It’s also a win for economy. We know that healthy society is more productive if you have economic return.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III let slip that the move isn’t all about the health of the population: “[We] made a final push for the outgoing Congress to further raise ‘sin’ taxes on tobacco and alcohol to close a cumulative funding gap estimated at around P426 billion [£6.5 billion] over the next five years.”

Whatever the whys and wherefores of sin taxes, working to remove a reduced harm alternative defies logic – the DOH plans to place punitive taxes on vape products too.

In April, Health Assistant Secretary Atty. Charade Mercado-Grande said: “There’s no total ban, but more of regulation. That’s what we will do for now. I’ll check on the classification if it is considered as pharmaceutical or what is the specific qualifications of the chemicals but definitely anything that we put in our body especially when there are studies that prove they are harmful to health, the DOH must do protective measures.”

The government hid behind a WHO recommendation to “regulate or ban the use of e-cigarettes and related products once it is proven that these also contain cancer-causing chemicals that are found in traditional cigarettes.”

There was dismay and disquiet when the plans were announced.

The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) said: “Access to safer nicotine products such as e-cigarettes among adults who wish to use such products in lieu of combustible tobacco is a human right. We urge the Department of Health and Philippine Food and Drug Administration to acknowledge the scientific evidence supporting the reduced harm of electronic cigarettes and to not severely restrict their availability to adults based on outdated and scientifically flawed opinions.”

Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association president Joey Dulay commented: “We support fair and reasonable regulation of e-cigarettes to ensure the safety of adult vapers.” He added that the moves would “kill the local vape industry and unduly benefit the tobacco industry that has killed millions and will continue to cause the premature death of countless people.”

CAPTHRA pushed for common sense and decency: “Public health officials have a mandated responsibility to provide evidence-based guidance on adult smokers’ access to such products so they can be informed of available harm-reduced options. They also have a mandated responsibility to disseminate the truth regarding scientific evidence in all matters related to public health, especially on tobacco harm reduction.”

The coalition wasn’t alone as comments flooded onto the DOH’s Facebook page – on a post that has since been deleted. The DOH’s official website statement acknowledges the “flood” and added, “they posted studies and videos claiming the product's safety”.

Defending its position, the DOH continued: “Of course, researches and testimonials abound, but the DOH still relies on works of credible individuals and institutions for the development of its policies.”

Just how “credible” the work the DOH relies upon can be gauged from its description of a vape device: “The e-cigarette is made of plastic and metal device that heat a liquid nicotine solution (e-juice) in a disposable cartridge. It creates a tiny light on the tip even glows like a real cigarette and produces a vapor that stimulates the act of smoking.”

It is plain that ignorance and self-interest abound in this amoral Pinoy government as they pursue policies designed to plug financial gaps rather than offer genuine, proven tobacco harm reduction and smoking cessation opportunities.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker