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Untangled webs of NGO lobbying in Philippines – CAPHRA

A new research by the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has confirmed that at least seven Philippine NGOs were among those which received millions of dollars from the anti-tobacco Bloomberg and Gates foundations to lobby the government for a ban on vaping in the country.

Coming on the heels of a House probe on foreign money influencing the Department of Health and the Food and Drugs administration without transparency and proper audit, CAPHRA outlined the money trail that go to lobbying for vested-interest policies devoid of any public disclosure and accountability.

“These foundations dismiss compelling international scientific evidence and apply bullying tactics to unduly influence the public health policies of sovereign nations. While many independent Asia-Pacific countries are delivering progressive and successful tobacco harm reduction policies and programs, big money and influence – mostly American – are conspiring to demonize their work,” said CAPHRA Philippine representative Clarisse Virgino who conducted the research.

Virgino revealed that US financial billionaire Michael Bloomberg, through his various philanthropic organizations, has provided grants to a number of local organizations, influence-peddling non-government organizations and lobby groups to push Bloomberg’s anti-vaping advocacy. The research paper noted that Bloomberg’s lobby money includes:

  • At least eight grants since 2010 to HealthJustice Philippines;
  • At least six grants since 2011 to Action for Economic Reforms;
  • At least 10 grants since 2009 to Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines;
  • At least two grants since 2017 to Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) Philippines;
  • At least two grants since 2018 to Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD);
  • At least three grants since 2018 to Social Watch Philippines; and
  • At least five grants since 2014 to New Vois Association of the Philippines.

Virgino, a former smoker who was able to quit by switching to vaping, said several billionaire-backed charitable organizations and pharmaceutical companies are spending hundreds of millions of US dollars to force an anti-vaping agenda onto unsuspecting countries.

“The billionaires are tied to the charities with links to the pharmaceutical companies, which in turn are tied to the billionaires. Most alarmingly, they don’t reveal these ties as money changes hands, and their talking points are unwittingly parroted by government officials. Those who express opposing viewpoints are often publicly bullied into submission,” she said.

Citing a Public Health England (PHE) independent report, Virgino pointed out that vaping is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in helping people stop smoking. PHE advises smokers to switch to vaping to help them quit smoking, but cautions non-smokers not to take up vaping. While not without some risks, vaping products contain significantly less harmful chemicals than cigarettes, according to the autonomous executive agency of the UK Department of Health and Social Care.

According to the PHE report, evidence over the years suggests that as the use of vaping products in quit attempts increases, the number of successful quits in England also increases. The report estimated that in 2017, more than 50,000 smokers in England stopped smoking with the aid of a vaping product who would otherwise have continued smoking.

A group of Filipino legislators recently called for the adoption of national policies prohibiting government agencies from receiving foreign grants without transparency and accountability.

Citing the need for strict policies to ensure “foreign donors” do not interfere in internal policymaking, the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a full audit on the money received by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the Bloomberg Initiative to draft policies regulating vaping in the country.

The committee also recommended the review of the FDA Act on the receipt of grants and donations from local and international sources, as well as the law’s implementing rules and regulations to reflect the realities that a grant may influence the grantee.

Virgino’s research also found that Bloomberg Philanthropies funded the Data for Health Initiative at the University of Melbourne. Until recently, Prof. Alan Lopez was the head of the initiative which aims to gather statistics on tobacco-related deaths worldwide. Among the initiative’s partners are the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies, an anti-tobacco nonprofit with longstanding ties to Bloomberg.

Prof. Lopez is a faculty member of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Currently headed by Prof. Lopez’s longtime colleague and friend Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, IHME was launched in June 2007 based on a core grant of US$105 million primarily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is one of five partner organizations funded by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, according to Virgino. Through its Institute for Global Tobacco Control, the Bloomberg School of Public Health serves as the academic arm of the initiative, conducting research, evaluation and capacity building to support the passage, implementation and enforcement of tobacco control policies and interventions.

The institute, which explicitly opposes vaping, is a partner of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Mohamad Haniki Bin Nik Mohamed is Associate Professor of Pharmacy at the International Islamic University in Selangor, Malaysia. He obtained a Certificate in Global Tobacco Control from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,” Virgino said.

The Tobacco Control Cell (TCC) is an attached agency of Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination. Virgino revealed that the TCC received a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to fund the development and implementation of the National Action Plan on Tobacco Interference, as well as grants to fund projects aimed at strengthening the country’s existing tobacco control interventions.

Virgino lambasted the “small, corrupt network of elites” that “pervert the democratically elected political systems of vulnerable developing countries” by “funneling cash through a web of anti-tobacco organizations and charities”, with a particular focus on influencing legislation.

“The corruption and conflicts of interest are blatant. For example, big pharma is using its charitable organizations to attack vaping while marketing their own smoking cessation products. Citizens’ rights are being bulldozed and national freedoms are being harmed – all in the paternalistic pursuit of forcing dubious policies onto others which end up negatively impacting people’s health and lives,” said Virgino.

(This article was first published by 24shareupdates on August 30, 2021.)

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