FDA hit for getting funds from anti-smoking advocates; 'discriminatory' policies vs tobacco industry

Published June 9, 2021, 2:05 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

House lawmakers on Wednesday grilled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on why it accepted funding from the Bloomberg external international groups, in exchange for the issuance of pre-defined policies against the tobacco industry, which is prohibited under the law.

During the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez questioned the FDA for receiving funding from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease or The Union and the Bloomberg Initiative—international private groups that advocate against all forms of tobacco products—and discriminated tobacco companies in the process.

Rodriguez said the FDA allowed itself to be “influenced by money from external international sources that precisely has advocacies against the tobacco industries,” harming the industry and the tobacco farmers that rely on it for livelihood.

“Definitely, the FDA and the DOH (Department of Health) should be able to instill and promote the protection of our youth on all aspects of health particularly against smoking,” Rodriguez said.

“But is it not the case when the regulatory agency is influenced by outside sectors because of hundreds of thousands of dollars. There must be something that the committee on good government must investigate into,” he pointed out.

Rodriguez said it is problematic the government’s regulatory agencies “is influenced by money coming in.”

“Because we have certain laws that really would not allow our regulatory agencies to receive outside sources to come out with policy and which that policy would be an advocacy of outside sources,” he pointed out.

Deputy Speaker and SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta echoed Rodriguez’ view and criticized the FDA for accepting funding from sources that harm legitimate businesses in the country.

“I also see the impropriety and irregularity of accepting and soliciting funds for purposes of regulation of a legitimate industry because the money they solicited is coming from advocates that ban and prohibits the use of manufacture and sales of tobacco in this country,” Marcoleta pointed out.

“Therefore, the FDA is placed in a situation where it has no choice but to strictly regulate if not prohibit tobacco (products),” he stressed.

Ana Rivera, who heads the FDA’s Center for Cosmetics and Household/Urban Hazardous Substances Regulation and Research (CCHUHSRR), however, insisted that while the FDA accepted the donation, the agency remains objective with its regulations.

“If we aligned with our (policies) with the donor, then our policy would have been a ban, and not on the regulation.

“Again, I would emphasize that we are obliged to follow regulations with the framework on tobacco control as we are signatory and a party to it. And our stand would be to go for a strict regulation and not for a total ban,” Rivera said.

When asked by Marcoleta if the FDA is “not happy” with the funds provided for by the government, Rivera admitted that the state funding only covered operational expenses and not enough for research and hiring of personnel.

In 2016, she said funds allotted for the office was only P4-million for one year which includes all operational expenses. The FDA also does not have extra funds to conduct researches and to hire personnel, which pushed them to eventually apply for a grant under the Bloomberg project.

“If we talk of happiness, we would appreciate it if Congress would allow a bigger amount of funds for the FDA since we would also like to modernize our laboratory capability,” Rivera said.

“And we would also like to fully implement Republic Act No. 9711 (Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009) as provided for under the law,” she pointed out.

But Marcoleta said it is not possible for the FDA “to regulate with impartiality, neutrality or objectivity if the money being taken is from those advocates who are not happy with the tobacco industry.”

“It should have been a different matter altogether if you’re getting it from a neutral funding organization, so that your hands would not be tied up,” the solon told the FDA official.