The troubles for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which admitted receiving foreign grants from vested interest groups continue to pile up as stakeholders threaten to file graft charges against the beleaguered agency before the Ombudsman.
Anton Israel, president of the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP) said “if the FDA ignores the views of legitimate and impacted stakeholders and proceeds with the adoption of an administrative order lifted from the playbook of their anti-tobacco patrons, we would be constrained to file an anti-graft case with the Ombudsman.”
Clarisse Virgino, the Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA), said they were “shocked and aghast by the admission of the FDA that they received money from the Union and Bloomberg Initiative. These groups are known advocates of prohibition for all forms of tobacco products including better alternatives to cigarettes like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.”
Joey Dulay, president of the Philippine E-Cigarette Industry Association in the last FDA public hearing said they were saddened to hear that the guidelines were “based on the recommendations of only the medical NGOs. We are (vapers and industry) the ones most affected with these guidelines and should be heard and considered also.”
On October 6 and 8, 2020, the FDA conducted virtual public consultations on the general guidelines for e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) respectively, which the participating stakeholders described as a presentation more than a consultation.
During the discussion on HTPs, the FDA confirmed receipt of grants from The Union and Bloomberg Initiative when confronted by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing. With the shocking admission, Deputy House Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano moved to conduct a full-blown House of Representatives investigation on the FDA.
“Upon questioning by Congress representatives present in the hearing, it came out that the FDA has been receiving financial grants from Bloomberg. Basing guidelines on medical NGOs which are known anti-vapor groups shows partiality. We would like to humbly request FDA for a more fair and impartial conduct of the drafting of the guidelines. That is all we ask, so we may work things together hand in hand please,” Dulay said.
In a statement, Virgino reminded the FDA that the solicitation or acceptance of gifts is prohibited under Republic Act No. 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, especially if it involves a piece of regulation.
“Section 7 of RA 6713 prohibits public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office. It is clear that funds received from anti-vaping groups would jeopardize FDA’s treatment of tobacco harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes and HTPs,” she said.
Israel said the FDA’s acceptance of the grant “is a clear case of conflict of interest driven solely by financial considerations. We know this government is uncompromising with corruption and President Duterte will not tolerate this abuse of authority.”
The FDA as a regulator, according to Virgino, is supposed to be an independent body free from influence of any foreign or local institution that tries to push its own interests.
“It is supposed to safeguard public health, and not become a subordinate to moneyed foreign groups,” she said.
“It comes now as no surprise that the Administrative Order drafted by the FDA, if adopted, would virtually constitute a de-facto ban on vapes and HTPs,” Virginio said, adding, “the FDA agenda is crystal clear. For the 16 million Filipino smokers, the only option is to quit or die. To the 1 million vapers, go back to smoking cigarettes.”
“This is the height of irresponsibility for a government agency when we all know there are options for those who can’t quit cigarettes,” Israel said.
He said “without better alternatives to cigarettes, smokers are only presented with the choice—quit or die.” He said that as a vaper, “If the FDA restricts vaping products, I would definitely go back exclusively to cigarettes.”