MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is one of the top five most burdened nations in terms of tobacco use, according to a study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
But the country has succeeded in erasing its “negative image” in the international and local health community, which was created by its perceived support for the tobacco industry.
The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday awarded the prestigious Orchid Award to the Philippines for excluding the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) from the official delegation to the 5th Conference of Parties (COP5) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
“This is a remarkable moment in the history of public health. We salute the President, the Department of Health and Civil Service Commission for upholding our obligations to WHO FCTC,” HealthJustice managing director Irene Reyes said in a statement.
John Steward, Challenge Big Tobacco campaign director at Corporate Accountability International, expressed hope that the Philippines would continue to make great strides toward advancing public health.
“This is a true win for the Filipino people and for civil society who can look to a government that now recognizes that the preservation of health far outweighs any profit that the tobacco industry could provide,” he said.
For its part, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) director Bungon Ritthipakdee stressed that the Philippines’ action should serve as a good practice for other government officials and policymakers to emulate.
“Government officials and policymakers have the power to stop tobacco industry interference in their hands. As long as government consistently rejects the tobacco industry in activities and events such as attendance to the COP, this sends a very strong signal that we are serious in halting their interference and manipulative tactics,” Ritthipakdee added.
Two years ago, the Philippines was bestowed the shameful Dirty Ashtray Award for doing exactly the opposite: the Philippine delegation mouthed pro-tobacco industry interests at the COP4 in Uruguay.
Earlier this year, Corporate Accountability International also selected the Philippine government’s Inter-agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) to receive its infamous “Marlboro Man Award” due to the tobacco industry’s presence in the IAC-T.
The Conference of Parties has been firm on ensuring that tobacco industry representatives are kept at a safe distance.
Even the Interpol, the world’s largest police organization, was refused observer status at the COP5 due to reports that it received $15 million from Philip Morris International.
“These are necessary steps to ensure that the Illicit Trade Protocol which has just been adopted is safeguarded against tobacco industry interference,” Reyes said.
Locally, the Bureau of Customs refused to renew its partnership agreement with Philip Morris in accordance with a 2010 joint memorandum circular issued by the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health to protect the bureaucracy from industry interference.
Most burdened nations
Meanwhile, the Philippines is ranked among the top five most burdened nations in the world in terms of tobacco users.
The top five are all Asian countries – the People’s Republic of China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Based on the ADB study titled “Tobacco Taxes, A Win-Win Measure for Fiscal Space and Health,” two-thirds of the world’s tobacco users live in just 15 countries, five of which are the most burdened. – Mayen Jaymalin, Ted Torres, Philippine Star