Local anti-vaping groups also received millions of grant money from Bloomberg

Published August 30, 2021, 1:38 PM

by Manila Bulletin

A consumer rights group released an explosive new research that established links of local NGOs to American billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his foundations’ efforts to undermine Philippine policies on regulating vaping and potentially drive the one million Filipino vapers back to smoking.

The Coalition of Asia-Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) expose came in wake of a landmark report adopted last week by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability condemning the Bloomberg foundations’ attempt to influence the Department of Health and the Food and Drugs Administration’s policy on vaping to advance its prohibitionists agenda through millions of dollars in grant money. The committee asked the Commission on Audit to examine the donation for transparency and accountability.

The CAPHRA paper revealed that Bloomberg also gave millions to local NGOs led by the HealthJustice Philippines (at least eight grants since 2010); Action for Economic Reforms (at least six grants since 2011); Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (at least 10 grants since 2009); Action On Smoking & Health Philippines (at least two grants since 2017); the Philippine Legislators’ Committee On Population And Development (at least two grants since 2018); Social Watch Philippines (three grants since 2018); and New Vois Association of the Philippines (at least five grants since 2014).

Among the countries included in the research are the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and Pakistan, where foundations and non-government organizations funded by Bloomberg and businessman Bill Gates are opposing the concept of tobacco harm reduction or the public health strategy of encouraging less harmful, smoke-free alternatives for those who cannot stop using combustible cigarettes.

According to the DOH, there are already some one million Filipinos who use e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products in the country.

“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,” the paper said.

The paper added foreign-funded NGOs are forcing countries to ban vaping, which is the most effective smoking cessation tool in the world, while not recommending a total ban on smoking.

“Dismissing compelling international scientific evidence, they’re applying bullying tactics to unduly influence sovereign nations’ public health policies,” said Clarisse Yvette P. Virgino, the Philippine CAPHRA representative.

Virgino said these billionaires have links to pharmaceutical companies that sell their own smoke-free nicotine products, resulting in a conflict of interest which they hide from Asia-Pacific countries. “The billionaires are tied to the charities, the charities are tied to the pharmaceuticals, and the pharmaceuticals are tied to the billionaires. Most alarmingly, they don’t reveal these ties as money changes hands and their talking points are unwittingly parroted out of the mouths of government officials,” she said.

“The corruption and conflicts of interest are blatant. For example, big pharma is using their charitable organizations to attack vaping while marketing their own smoking cessation products,” Virgino said.

The research paper found evidence linking Bloomberg and Gates to charities that are involved in influence-peddling in four Asia-Pacific countries.

The Action for Economic Reforms used the Bloomberg grants for advocacy to secure the passage of a law to reform and increase tobacco taxation in the Philippines. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines utilized the funds for intensified capacity and alliance building with strategic media communications with priority given to the passage of the graphic health warnings law, tobacco taxation policy, and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The other groups also used the funds for policy advocacy actions at the national and local government levels.

The research also finds similar strategies by Bloomberg and Gates to use foundations, NGOs and charities to influence public health policies and demonize the work of tobacco harm reduction advocates in Australia, Malaysia and Pakistan.

“Perverting countries’ democratically elected political systems, this small, corrupt network of elites sweep in and influence. Funneling cash through a myriad of anti-tobacco organizations and charities, they’re particularly focused on influencing laws in more vulnerable developing countries,” the paper said.

“Citizens’ rights are being bulldozed and national freedoms are being harmed—all in the paternalistic pursuit of pushing policies onto others which end up negatively impacting local people’s health and lives,” it said.

Filipino congressmen earlier conducted a legislative inquiry on the receipt of funds by the Philippines FDA from the Bloomberg Initiative to draft policies regulating vaping in the country. The probe led to a call for the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a full-blown audit on the money received by the FDA from the American anti-tobacco group.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability also pushed for the adoption of national policies prohibiting government agencies from receiving foreign grant without transparency and accountability.

Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano said that he and Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed a resolution to conduct an inquiry on the FDA “to determine whether our regulatory agencies are being influenced by any foreign vested interest groups, and to initiate actions within our capacity as lawmakers to institutionalize policies to protect our sovereignty by averting such foreign meddling in our local affairs.” Rep. Savellano expressed strong support to the committee’s recommendation to further investigate foreign organizations “to once and for all determine the extent of their influence in our government systems.” “As we have learned in the course of the inquiry, several government agencies, regulatory bodies and local government units aside from the FDA have been engaged by The Union and Bloomberg Initiative to promote their advocacy. Such engagements involving monetary grants must require proper disclosure and registration under the law,” he said.