International consumer groups express concerns over foreign grant influence on FDA regulations

November 21, 2020

Over 35 national consumer organizations under the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) sounded the alarm over foreign grants on local health regulators that may adversely affect efforts to reduce the harm caused by combustible cigarettes in low and middle-income countries including the Philippines. INNCO particularly cited the influence exerted by non-government organizations supported by Bloomberg Initiative on regulators such as the Philippines Food and Drug Administration. “There is also an element of corruption aided by the Bloomberg NGOs, who are co-opting tobacco policy through the sheer force of money. The legislators in Philippines recently questioned the conflict of interest in their FDA receiving funds from these NGOs while pushing anti-vaping policy,” Samrat Chowdhery, president of INNCO and a leading tobacco harm reduction advocate, said during the recent virtual presentation of “Burning Issues: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) 2020” published by UK public health agency Knowledge Action Change (KAC). Chowdhery was referring to the Philippines FDA’s admission that it received foreign grants from American business interest groups Bloomberg Initiative and The Union while in the process of drafting regulation on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs).   During an online public consultation on the guidelines for e-cigarettes and HTPs, a ranking FDA official admitted that the agency received grants from foreign anti-tobacco advocates when confronted by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing and Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano.  The GSTHR report also records various kinds of opposition to low-risk products being mounted by ant-vaping organizations such as the position paper by the influential Paris-based Union which called for a ban on vaping and HTPs in LMICs.  “This is, of course, highly discriminatory, will increase health gaps between western and developing nations, and is a prime instance of the philantro-capitalism kind of thinking that is highlighted in the GSTHR report,” said Chowdhery. He said that aside from bans in LMICs, there was also a growing number of restrictions on vaping and other risk-reduced alternatives—from higher taxation and restrictions on online sales, to the new favorite of tobacco control, which is flavor bans. He said this is happening across many US states and in Europe. Chowdhery said the war was also heating up on oral nicotine pouches—a new innovation that is like snus but without tobacco and low on the harm spectrum, close to nicotine gums in risk.  “We are seeing attempts to ban them in Baltic countries and the Bloomberg network is doing the same in Africa by spreading misinformation and overstating risks without any concern that they are affordable, less risky and effective in helping smokers switch,” he said. Chowdhery noted that these bans and restrictions which prevent access or increase barriers to tobacco harm reduction are now the biggest hurdle to achieving a society in which people do not die in millions per year from the harmful use of tobacco.  The GSTHR 2020 report said that globally, 36 nations currently ban low-risk alternatives, and most of them are LMICs in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.   Chowdhery said this is alarming because almost 80% of over a billion smokers worldwide live in developing nations where most of the 8 million annual deaths from smoking are recorded. He said that in most countries where there is a ban on tobacco harm reduction products, the main argument is that it was done to ‘Save the Children’.  He said this goal, in reality, is jeopardized as there is inadequate enforcement of the ban and a black market mushrooms which is difficult to control.  “We have seen this in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and now in India. Recently, South Africa reversed its tobacco ban during Covid outbreak over concerns that the resultant black markets would be difficult to shake off,” he said. He said that ultimately, any move away from the concept of risk-differential taxation and increasing barriers to tobacco harm reduction ultimately serves to perpetuate smoking.  “It hurts the health of the country, but also causes huge financial loss as tobacco-related mortality and morbidity costs, as well as the lost man-hours, rise, and by decimating an industry which could create jobs and revenue while improving the health of tobacco users,” he said.  “This economic argument is stronger now than ever as countries struggle to cope during the pandemic—the answer isn’t in giving sops to the tobacco industry as Bhutan has done by ending its decades long tobacco ban, which was ineffective anyway, the answer is in allowing and promoting access to THR alternatives so while there is additional revenue, there isn’t additional death and disease,” said Chowdhery. He said such restrictions also violate human rights principles by denying tobacco users a means to prevent disease and early death.  “Personal liberty is built into almost all constitutions across the world, and especially when you take second-hand risk out of the equation, there remains absolutely no argument to prevent access without violating these basic principles. The failed war on drugs has led to introduction of harm reduction as among the core tenets of drug policy, and it’s time it caught on in tobacco control too,” he said. Chowdhery said despite these adverse developments, there is a glimmer of hope as science is slowly but steadily winning over ideology.  “Since the last edition of the GSTHR report in 2018, four countries have banned THR alternatives while 22 nations from various regions of the world have either reversed bans or put in place formal regulations allowing their use. The tide is turning, and I hope this trend continues in years to come,” he said.

Navy seizes P150-M smuggled cigarettes off Tawi-Tawi

November 12, 2020

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Naval Task Force 61 and its 3rd Boat Attack Division have intercepted a shipment of PHP150 million worth of smuggled cigarettes off Tawi-Tawi, a top Navy official said Saturday. They seized the shipment in waters off the island town of Simunul at about 9 p.m. on Friday, Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) commander, Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr., said. Adaci said the wooden-hull vessel, M/L Nur 1, was intercepted following a tip-off on the entry of the smuggled cigarettes. He said the Nur 1 was found to be loaded with some 3,000 master cases of undocumented cigarettes with an estimated market value of PHP150 million. The boat came from Tarakan, Indonesia, and was en route to a private wharf in Indanan, Sulu. It was skippered by Sahibul Hiyang Sirajan and had an eight-man crew. “It has been the modus operandi of smugglers operating in the region to drop off their goods somewhere and utilize several smaller boats to distribute them to the different places in Western Mindanao,” Adaci said. He said the Nur 1 was escorted to the Lamion Wharf in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi for refueling and reprovisioning and would be escorted to this city for turnover to the Bureau of Customs. Appropriate charges will be filed against the owner of the cargo, the vessel, and its crew. (PNA)

DAGYAW 2020: 3rd Episode feature challenges of the business and economic sectors

October 29, 2020

The succeeding episodes of Dagyaw 2020 became a hit and It has reached thousands of viewers and users online. The 3rd episode which dubbed as USAPANG NEGOSYO AT EKONOMIYA will be rolled out on October 30, Friday, 9 to 11 AM.       The 3rd episode will bring us to know the state of the Business and Economic Sector in the Region especially during this most challenging time when we are put under the state of national health emergency due to COVID19 pandemic.      The Participatory Governance Cluster of the Cabinet through the Department of the Interior and Local Government Region X (DILG-X), Department of Budget and Management (DBM-X), and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA-X) will host the 3rd episode of Dagyaw 2020.        NEDA 10 and Oro Chamber will be the guest speakers for the said episode while DOLE 10 and DTI 10 will be the responders. The event will be available through the DILG-X official Facebook Page and will be simultaneously live-streamed on various government agencies’ social media pages.       Moreover, Dagyaw 2020 aims to build mutual trust between the government and the Filipino people by providing open, neutral, and protected space for dialogue on key national and local issues and plans in the post of COVID-19 pandemic. (DILG 10/LGCDD/ Roque Salvo)

Emperador’s global presence continues to expand across North America, Europe and China

October 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines - Emperador Inc. – the world’s largest brandy company owning the iconic Emperador Brandy and Fundador Spanish Brandy de Jerez – continues its aggressive growth across North America and Europe during the first nine months of the year even as the global pandemic adversely hit most countries in these continents.       Fundador, Tres Cepas, and Emperador brands have been growing consistently, particularly in the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and Greater China. In Spain, brands owned and produced under Grupo Emperador España S.A. continue to dominate the brandy market with 40% market share.      Fundador has been particularly showing spectacular performance even in North America. In the United States alone, Fundador achieved 23% growth during the first nine months of the year. In Canada, sales have also tripled during the first nine months as Fundador Light has been made available in Alberta, Canada as a new expression this year. The new Fundador Double Light was also rolled out across the US.       Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Fundador grew 185% during the first nine months, while in Italy, it recorded 15% growth during the same period. Emperador’s brandy performance, on the other hand, achieved 8% growth in Mexico during this period.      “We are glad that the company was able to deliver solid performance in the first nine months of 2020 on the strength of its international business that we have developed in the past five years.  The highest international growth comes from China, which is expected to more than double from last year, which will be driven by the premium single malt brands and brandy.  We are confident that this will pave the way for further growth in the future for Emperador,” says Glenn Manlapaz, chief executive officer, Emperador International.      As international sales of its brandy and whisky products in various markets around the world, Emperador recorded 11% growth in its net income to P5.9-billion during the first nine months of the year while third quarter earnings achieved 26% record growth to P2.5-billion as overseas demand for its products surged amid the global pandemic.       “The success of our international expansion boosted company earnings, bringing stability and growth at a time when the Philippines wrestles with the impact of the coronavirus.  Emperador’s global business saw double-digit growth as it adapted well to new consumption trends,” says Winston Co, president, Emperador Inc.      Emperador Inc., which owns Emperador Distillers, Inc., Scotch whisky maker Whyte and Mackay Group, and Bodegas Fundador in Spain, has brandy and whisky brands that are available in more than 100 countries around the world.

JTIP warns of more cigarette smuggling via backdoor during holiday season

October 22, 2020

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has appealed to law enforcement agencies to intensify its anti-smuggling efforts in the country’s regions, particularly in Visayas and Mindanao, as more contraband cigarettes are expected to enter the country’s backdoor during the yuletide season. JTI Philippines (JTIP) General Manager John Freda said key areas in Mindanao and Visayas have been traditional backdoor channels for illegal cigarettes and a series of seizures in the ports of Visayas and Mindanao over the past weeks are indicative that smuggling syndicates are stocking up. Freda noted that in recent weeks, a series of seizures and interceptions were made by the anti-smuggling team of Bureau of Customs (BOC) in the ports of Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga and Davao. In Cebu, the BOC hauled in a total of P148 million in illegal cigarettes during August alone followed by the interception of two containers filled with cigarette contraband worth P88.1 million in the first week of September. For the entire month of September, BOC Cebu destroyed a total of P180 million worth of smuggled goods, 36% of which were illegal cigarettes. Bacolod, Iloilo and Tacloban in the Visayas have also encountered rising incidents of cigarette smuggling in the recent past. In Mindanao, BOC teams intercepted some P96.6 million worth of illegally imported cigarettes in the port of Davao while destroying P50 million worth of illegal cigarettes in Cagayan de Oro, both happening in the first week of October. Seizures were also recently conducted by law enforcement units in the port of Zamboanga where P1.5 billion of illegal cigarettes including raw materials were destroyed.  Freda nevertheless lauded the series of successful operations made by the BOC and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in recent months as smuggling incidents became rampant amid the pandemic. “I understand that for a country with so many islands like the Philippines, it is a huge challenge to control the problem, but the deterrents need to be stronger,” Freda said. He said illegal tobacco trade is a growing problem in the country, which requires more government attention and “absolute vigilance.” “Stiffer sanctions are required. We need to see people being caught and brought to justice in a way that deters others from being part of this criminal endeavor,” Freda said even as he reiterated his call for higher penalties and sanctions against tobacco smugglers to sharpen the deterrence. He said more smuggling attempts are expected with increasing frequency during the yuletide months even with a quarantine in effect. “Syndicates will surely try to cash in on this and compete with legal and tax-paying tobacco players as the pandemic drags on until Christmas and even beyond New Year,” Freda pointed out. He stressed coastal borders and port cities in the Visayas and Mindanao must be put under tighter watch to thwart smugglers taking advantage of the current situation. Freda likewise cited a JTI global study, which showed that organized criminal groups around the world are capitalizing on the COVID-19 pandemic to operate their illicit tobacco trade. The JTI report, which covered 50 countries, also noted “a strong presence” of tobacco smugglers in the Philippines. JTI markets in the Philippines cigarette brands Winston, Camel, Mevius, Mighty and Marvels. According to the JTIP GM, illegal tobacco trade is considered a lucrative business for criminals who make huge profits with very low risk of getting caught and “insignificant” penalties. This deprives the government of collecting revenues, with both contraband and counterfeit cigarettes being smuggled without paying taxes. According to the World Bank, the global trade in illegal tobacco is already worth an estimated $40 billion to $50 billion each year. The government has also been confronted with a diminished collection from tobacco excise tax since the pandemic hit in early March. The latest preliminary Department of Finance (DOF) data showed that the excise tax take from tobacco, e-cigarettes and alcohol amounted to P140.1 billion as of end-August, down 13 percent from P161.8 billion during the first eight months of last year. From January to August, tobacco excise tax collections dropped to P95.7 billion from P111.3 billion a year ago, while those from alcoholic beverages declined to P44.4 billion from P50.5 billion a year ago. The stringent COVID-19 quarantine from mid-March to May affected both the supply of and demand for alcohol and tobacco products as factories stopped production for the local market while movement of nonessential goods was restricted, including liquor bans imposed by some local government units to discourage social drinking. At the height of the lockdown, illicit cigarette traders raked in as they took advantage of the dwindling availability of tax-paid cigarettes.

SHELL’S 2ND VIRTUAL ART INTERACT SPOTLIGHTS MINDANAO | Creating stories of hope in isolation

October 20, 2020

Mindanao is hailed for its abundant natural resources and breathtaking landscapes. But beyond its pristine beaches and lush mountains is a burgeoning community of creatives who are injecting their unique Mindanaoan identity into art and using it as a force for good. As the country continues to grapple with COVID-19, Mindanaoan artists are stepping up to create stories of hope while in isolation. Following the theme of “HOPE IN OUR ART,” Pilipinas Shell’s 53rd National Students Art Competition (NSAC) held the second leg of Virtual Art Interact last October 17, in collaboration with creative collective Fringe Manila. Virtual Art Interact is also a platform where creatives can share their insights about their profession for the next generation. While the pilot event focused on the Luzon art scene, this recent forum put the spotlight on the growing community of creators in Mindanao. Since NSAC’s inception, Shell has acknowledged the vital role of visual artists, illustrators, sculptors, and other imaginative talents in shaping the youth and country’s future—especially now. “Through NSAC, we pledge our support to keep artists and art institutions alive. We want to amplify the youth’s voices, and continue the conversation on art’s importance,” said Sankie Simbulan, Country Social Performance and Investment Manager of Pilipinas Shell.  Simbulan continued, “The ethnic and cultural diversity of Mindanao and its rich history have given birth to a young generation of artists whose voices need to spread and be heard throughout the Philippines.”  Andrei Pamintuan, Creative Director of Fringe Manila and host of Virtual Art Interact, added, “This is a great opportunity to share stories from Mindanao. It’s important to be inclusive, especially for platforms like this, so that we can showcase the diversity of what’s happening in the Philippines.” Having survived many conflicts and calamities, Mindanao has proven itself to be a region of resilience—with artists at the helm of inspiring hope that propels the community forward.  Through his projects with Mindanao local governments, Zabala has been championing a fresh perspective of the region that does not let its past define its future. “At work, our goal is to recreate Mindanao’s image using art. For example, we created a campaign called ‘Zoom in Zamboanga City’ that is inspired by our rich history, nature, tourist spots, native patterns, and more,” Zabala explained. Being no strangers to crises, Zabala and fellow Mindaoan artists immediately heeded the call to once again inspire hope and courage as COVID struck the country. He shared, “The pandemic is a challenge for everyone. People have lost jobs, families have gone hungry, and mental health is affected. As public servants and artists, our work should never stop. We have since created several campaigns that promote generosity and kindness in the community.” Zabala, who did a live demonstration of digital illustration during the event, also discussed the many themes present in today’s art. “There are so many stories now about struggles and difficulties, both personal and in our country [Ang daming stories ngayon tungkol sa struggle]. As creatives, we use art to express our emotions and what we are going through.”  Zabala also pointed out one essential, if often overlooked, role that artists perform during crisis: “We also act as historians who visually piece together this moment in time—including all the contemplation and uncertainty it holds. When we look back on this period someday, art will help us make sense of it.” Isko Andrade, a former contestant and three-time winner of the NSAC, shared how he overcame the more discouraging moments during the pandemic. “COVID-19 has affected my career as an artist because of cancelled shows and exhibits, but I choose not to dwell on the negative side [Maraming nag-iba since nagka-COVID. Na-affect yung career ko as an artist kasi madaming cancelled shows at exhibits, pero di lang ako tumitingin sa mga negative].  “‘The pandemic has given me time to focus on myself, my craft, and taught me to appreciate and find inspiration in everything—whether they’re big or small [Pero ngayong pandemic, nakafocus ako sa sarili ko at sa art ko. Na-appreciate ko din ang bawat bagay, maliit man o malaki].” The Bulacan-based Andrade looked back on how opportunities presented themselves to him in the middle of adversity. One such door was his win during the NSAC competition in 2014. His winning oil on canvas piece, entitled ‘Ipinagkakait na Kalayaan,’ was in itself an example of triumph over adversity:  this life-changing canvas depicts paintbrushes ready to be buried, and was inspired by the death of his mother and the pains that come from being part of a broken family.  He said, “As a young student artist from the province, I had simple dreams of finishing college and getting a normal job. I didn’t think I could ever win NSAC, but it was such a big help for me and my family. I was able to pursue my art, and I learned to dream bigger. [Dati, pangarap ko lang sa probinsya ay makatapos ng pag-aaral at kumuha ng trabaho. Nakakatuwa dahil di ko akalain na mananalo ako sa NSAC. Sobrang laking tulong ng NSAC. Nakatapos ako ng pag-aaral at natuto akong mangarap ng higit sa pangarap ko.]” Zabala concurred that creative platforms such as NSAC are bringers of hope that can keep communities alive during the most difficult times. He said, “Art is a great tool for healing. It’s cathartic. We can use it to give people something to hold on to as they live through the pandemic.” Simbulan reminded the audience to remember and explore its rich heritage to mine stories for encouragement. She said, “As Filipinos, we have a wealth of culture and creativity that can act as reservoirs of hope and fuel for economic recovery. We can all learn a thing or two from artists—how to create more with less, how to discover new perspectives in the mundane, and how to find the silver lining amid this isolation..” The next and final leg of Shell Virtual Art Interact is set to happen on November 7 and will focus on the Visayas region. Meanwhile, the awarding of the NSAC, which currently has 1,300 entries, will take place on November 27. For more information, keep posted on Shell Philippines’ website and social media accounts.  Website: Facebook: Shell


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