In December 2020, international public health experts in Manilla filed a resolution directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry on the “questionable” receipt of private funding by Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies and institutions by Anti-tobacco Bloomberg foundation.
In a shocking series of events, General Rolando Enrique Domingo, FDA Director has confirmed that the agency applied for a grant of money from The Union which co-manages Bloomberg initiative and its “major objectives” including supporting “public sector efforts to implement effective policies” to advocate a ban on vapes and heated tobacco products. The proceeding also disclosed that FDA hired employees who were tasked to craft regulatory guidelines for these products raising serious concerns over the FDA’s independence and credibility.
International public health experts and tobacco harm reduction advocates from around the world have voiced serious concerns on the impact of these development influencing the decision of the regulator as well as disregarding the rights and welfare of consumers. This development reinforces the need for regulatory agencies across the world to operate without any interference and influence of foreign institutions.
Speaking on this development, Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano, a co-author of the resolution said, “We hope that through this investigation, we can better protect our independence and sovereignty so that we do not become an easy target for foreign private entities that wish to interfere with national policy.”
Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing, another co-author of the resolution inquired about the details of the FDA funding and the purpose of soliciting a grant from The Union while the FDA has its own funds, citing conflict of interest.
“Of course, it is given that whatever will come out in the research, whatever will be the guidelines (on e-cigarettes and HTPs) that you will come up out of the donations of that international source, you will be influenced,” Rep. Suansing said.
In another incident seen in Mexico, there was a complete violation of standard Congressional procedure. Mexican lawmakers have strongly spoken against US NGO influence and foul play for bill to ban smoke-free alternatives citing foul play with an employee working with Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an organization funded by Bloomberg instrumental in drafting the proposed tobacco control legislation.
In the Indian context, over the last five years, the Government has banned over 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for receiving funds from abroad.
However, India’s dismal transition to a ‘Nanny State’ adversely impacting consumer freedom of choice cannot be ignored. The Nanny State is the idea of a government or authorities behaving too protective for their constituents, i.e. interfering with their personal choice and hindering their liberty and right to life.
The developments in Philippines and Mexico, bring to the fore the critical role of regulatory authorities and think tanks which need to be empowered to operate with complete autonomy without representing the interests of either Government or self-interest bodies. Over the years, Bloomberg Initiative’s anti-tobacco campaigning in India has resulted in stringent regulations on the tobacco industry with high taxes, strong adoption of health warnings on various consumer goods and in extreme cases ban on products like e-cigarettes and vaping products denying millions of Indian smokers the option to switch to better alternatives.
With India having the world’s second largest smoking population, this approach misses a huge opportunity to address the problem of cigarette smoking, considered by many to be the leading preventable cause of death and disease in India. This also goes against the growing body of science that points to these products being significantly less harmful than cigarette smoking.