Consumer advocacy and industry groups asked the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to stop soliciting money from foreign charities, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies so that they can be objective in regulating electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products and follow what the laws prescribe.
The FDA conceded during a Congressional probe on March 16, 2021 that it applied for a grant in 2016 and received money the following year from foreign anti-tobacco organization International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, or The Union, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, to fund the drafting of vape and heated tobacco policy.
This prompted Vaper Ako, Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines and the Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association to raise the alarm on the influence of foreign vested interest groups on local regulations.
“The FDA, an attached agency of the DOH which was tasked to prepare the implementing guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs, should have not approached and collected money from The Union and Bloomberg Philanthropies in the first place, because these organizations were known for advancing their own anti-vaping agenda globally,” Anton Israel, president of the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines, said in a statement.
Joey Dulay, president of PECIA, said the FDA should prove its independence by drafting regulations that are fair to smokers, vapers and consumers. “We hope that the FDA will recognize our rights as consumers of less harmful and innovative products,” he said.
Joaqui Gallardo of Vaper AKO said Congress should consider passing laws that prohibit foreign non-government organizations with vested interests from providing grants to regulatory agencies in the Philippines such as the FDA.
The Union said on its website that it publicly advocated for the prohibition of the sale of e-cigarettes and HTPs in low- and middle-income countries which are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s smokers.
“Now that we know that the FDA received money from these anti-vaping groups, the least the FDA could do is immediately cut ties with Bloomberg Philanthropies to remove any suspicion on and reassert its autonomy as a regulator,” Israel said.
“This is important because the FDA was identified by several recently passed laws to draft the regulation on, and not ban, safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes. Restricting the use and sale of these innovative products that are equivalent to ban would be contrary to the intent of the laws,” he said.
FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique Domingo told the House committee on good government and public accountability that the regulatory agency in 2016 applied for and received a grant of $150,430 from The Union mainly to hire “job order” employees who would draft the tobacco control policies of the agency.
“We worked with the World Health Organization, the Asian Development Bank, and non-government organizations such as the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union),” Domingo said during the hearing.
The FDA said that in February 2017, the grant was given by The Union for the project titled “Strengthening the Regulatory Systems on Tobacco Control under the Food and Drug Administration”.
“Obviously, there is a conflict of interest in the case of the anti-vaping Bloomberg Philanthropies providing grants or technical assistance to the FDA in the drafting of regulations on vaping and HTPs. We need a law to make sure it won’t happen again,” Gallardo said.
Congress passed laws such as Republic Act No. 11347 and RA 11467 while President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 106 to allow but regulate the sale, distribution, and taxation of vapor and HTPs in the Philippines. The FDA was tasked to prepare the implementing guidelines of the measures.
The FDA issued Administrative Order No. 2020-0055 on Dec. 1, 2020 for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs with effective date of January 14, 2021 and full enforcement on May 24, 2022.
Gallardo said AO 2020-0055 turned out to be more restrictive than the regulations for cigarettes. “This would discourage smokers from switching to less harmful alternatives to cigarettes,” he said.