Child rights advocates slam pro-tobacco PH delegation in health conference, support Senate Blue Ribbon investigation

February 23, 2024

The Child Rights Network (CRN) and its convenor, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), stand behind the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation chaired by Senator Pia Cayetano into the conduct of government officials in the recently concluded international health conference on tobacco control.

The Philippines received its fifth “Dirty Ashtray” award at the 10th Conference of Parties of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (COP10) for aligning with the tobacco lobby.

“We thank Senator Pia Cayetano and the Blue Ribbon Committee for shedding light on what child rights advocates have long confronted in protecting children and young people from nicotine addiction – the tobacco industry’s alarming and increasing influence in government affairs,” said Mr. Rom Dongeto, CRN Convenor and PLCPD Executive Director.

“Our existing law prohibits interactions between the tobacco industry and the government. Yet, as we witnessed in the passage of the pro-tobacco industry Vape Law in 2022, the industry has brazenly come out of the shadows and even worked hand in hand with some of our legislators to ease the regulation of vapes and e-cigarettes in the open market,” he added.

Mr. Dongeto said that it was disappointing yet unsurprising to see the tobacco industry’s influence once again at the COP10, where the Philippine delegation took the position of the tobacco lobby.”

We support the public scrutiny of the conduct of the Philippine delegation. This is a crucial step to restore public trust and guide future delegations to prioritize public health and children’s welfare, especially in health conferences,” he said.

“This is also an opportunity to undo the errors of the Vape Law by putting back the health and child protection safeguards, including raising the age of access to vapes and returning its jurisdiction to health authorities,” he added.

Advocates also take exception to the convenient excuse by the Philippine delegation that the livelihood of tobacco farmers is on the line which is why they took such a position.

As pointed out in the hearing by Department of Health Undersecretary Lilibeth David, at least 20,000 families are involved in tobacco farming and the average income of a tobacco farmer is only P50,000 a year, while the tobacco industry earns P160 billion annually.

The Philippines is also spending 4.8% of its Gross Domestic Product on treating non-communicable diseases, where over 20% is attributable to tobacco use.

“It is clear that only a tiny fraction of tobacco revenue goes directly to the farmers and the health costs to treat tobacco-related diseases are higher than what the government is earning,” Mr. Dongeto said.

“The government is not protecting the farmers here, it is protecting the industry in a lose-lose situation. If we really care about our farmers, our government must create programs and help them shift to other crops and livelihood as stipulated by our law,” he concluded.