Good News Out of the Philippines on ENDS Products | Citizens Against Government Waste

Good News Out of the Philippines on ENDS Products

The WasteWatcher

Lobbying the government to obtain a political or policy objective is not limited to the United States. But the rules and reactions to such efforts vary widely around the world.  It is rare to rebuke lobbyists at the federal, state, and local level in America, but the Philippine government seems to be taking abuses of these activities more seriously. This week the Philippine House of Representatives Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability adopted and reported to the full House a report that cited “the questionable receipt of private funding by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies and institutions in exchange for the issuance of specific and predefined policies directed against a legitimate industry under Philippine laws and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.”  The committee’s goal, according to the July 23 Manila Standard, is to seek “air-tight policies to ensure ‘foreign donors’ do not interfere in the country’s internal policy-making affairs.”

The Manila Standard noted that the report came about due to a Philippine congressional resolution that called for an investigation of the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (PFDA) when it learned the agency had received questionable funding from outside sources.  The investigation reviewed the receipt of grants and donations from international and local sources and asked the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Philippine Competition Commission to reveal how grants may influence the grantee.

This action is a 180 degree turn from where the government’s position a year ago regarding the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), like vaping products and heat-not-burn technology.  The PFDA originally denied it had received any funding from foreign sources to subsidize the development of its vape and heated tobacco products regulations but later recanted their testimony and admitted they had solicited and received a grant from The Union, an international health membership organization that is fighting to stop lung disease, and the anti-tobacco organization, Bloomberg Initiative.  Both are funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Last year, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) engaged in the Philippine ENDS regulatory issue with a June, 2, 2020 letter to PFDA Director General Dr. Rolando Enrique D. Domingo, M.D regarding their effort to write draft guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and heated tobacco products.  The letter expressed disappointment over the guidelines because the agency wanted these products to be regulated as a health product.  CAGW argued that ENDS, Non-nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS), and heat-not-burn (HNB) products should not be compared to medical devices or pharmaceuticals.  Instead, they are harm reduction products that enable smokers to wean themselves off combustible cigarettes.  It is the burning of tobacco that produces toxic chemicals, like tar, benzene, and carbon monoxide that cause cancer, heart disease, COPD, and death.

The PFDA also was considering banning all flavors, other than natural or menthol flavored ENDS products.  CAGW has long argued this is a bad idea.  Adults like the flavors because they help them utilize and stick with the ENDs products, helping them to break the habit of smoking combustible cigarettes.

CAGW argued in its letter to Dr. Domingo that not only should the PFDA, but all health agencies across the globe, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adopt a more open attitude about ENDs products, like those espoused by Public Health England (PHE).  The agency is one of the few in the world that understands that millions of their citizens will continue to use combustible cigarettes that raise healthcare costs because of the harm they cause unless there are viable alternatives.  To create a smoke-free nation, in addition to using many of the traditional smoking cessation methods, PHE includes encouraging the use of ENDS products, which are much less harmful than combustible cigarettes.

CAGW urged the Philippine government not to adopt strict rules that would limit access to ENDs, considering that the country has one of the highest smoking rates in the world.  About 15 percent of the population or 17 million Filipinos, smoke at least 10 cigarettes daily, and 24 percent of the population smokes any tobacco product on a daily or non-daily basis.

CAGW’s letter also expressed disappointment with the U.S. FDA’s approach to the use of ENDS and that their actions would not help smokers quit their deadly habit.

Last year, it looked as though the Philippine government was well on its way to adopting strict regulations on ENDS products.  After all, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had wanted to ban permanently the use and import of e-cigarettes, threatening to arrest anyone who used them.  In August 2020, the Philippine Joint House Committees of Trade and Industry passed a bill that set up clear guidelines to regulate ENDS products, the “Non-Combustible Nicotine Delivery System Regulation Act of 2020.”  But movement on the bill and FDA action decreased to a crawl when the funding scandal became public.

It was discovered on October 8, 2020 during a public consultation over the proposed regulations that the PFDA had received funding from The Union.  The Union was also co-managing the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program.  The grants are used to support various programs, and, in this case, the funding was to be used to support the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Program, which was overseen by the PFDA.

It was declared that the grant was a conflict of interest, that there would be no further movement on regulating ENDS products.  A full investigation with a final report was called for, and agreed to, over the conflict-of-interest accusation.

This week's scathing Good Government Committee report determined that the PFDA “failed to act judiciously” when it did not consider the propriety of accepting funds from an entity with an agenda that was attempting to influence the crafting of ENDS and HNB regulations.  It was found that the manufacturers of ENDS and HNB devices were “unwittingly disadvantaged” and that The Union and Bloomberg Initiative may have violated Philippine law, acting more in a political matter rather than in a health educational role. 

The uproar over foreign influence in crafting Philippine regulations seems to have had an impact on the legislature.  The House passed HB 9007, a reasonable approach to regulating ENDS on May 24, 2021, which recognized that harm reduction is a public health strategy.  The bill provides jurisdiction over the development of regulations by the Department of Trade and Industry, with consultation with the PFDA and the National Tobacco Administration.

The Philippine Senate is scheduled to consider its version of ENDS regulation, SB 496, “An Act Regulating Vaporized Nicotine Products,” which could occur during the week of August 30.  Hopefully, the Senate will continue the trend of appreciating that ENDS products can help smokers move away from combustible cigarettes to something that is much less harmful.

Legislators across the globe must also understand that “health” organizations like The Union, Bloomberg Initiative, and the World Health Organization, among others, are also political organizations that have agendas and lobby to promote and implement them.  Their ideas, like outlawing flavors or increasing taxes on ENDS products, are not helpful in assisting countries with moving their citizens away from deadly combustible cigarettes to much less harmful products.  If successful, too many people will continue to use combustible cigarettes, which everyone agrees is a deadly habit.