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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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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PMFTC highlights transformation to smoke-free future

October 7, 2020

PMFTC Inc. President Denis Gorkun unveiled their company’s bold ambition to adapt to the changing times by way of transforming its people and innovating its products grounded on a vision that is fact and science-based. Speaking at the opening of the DigiCon Omni 2020 virtual conference yesterday, Gorkun shared to attendees Philip Morris International (PMI)’s vision to deliver a smoke-free future with better alternatives to replace cigarettes for adult smokers who would otherwise choose to continue to smoke. PMFTC is the local affiliate of PMI. “There has never been such a dramatic paradigm shift at such a major organization. We are doing so much more than just evolving from an agriculture and consumer goods company to a technology company. We are a company that needs to transform in order to be successful in the new smoke-free reality,” Gorkun stressed. He emphasized that PMI’s smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes are not risk-free and the best thing for smokers is still to quit and for non-smokers to never start at all.  Explaining PMI’s transformation, he said “we are going smoke-free because it is the right thing to do, and our resources allow for it. With the support of top-in-class scientists, engineers, technicians and a state-of-the-art R&D, our bold vision is to transform our business, to replace cigarettes at the soonest possible time. To take the smoke out of smoking.”  As governments around the world take action against smoking because of its harmful effects, the company has responded with a clear vision to a smoke-free future by addressing the main cause of smoking-related diseases. He said estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) show there will still be more than a billion smokers in 2030. In the Philippines - at a quit rate of four percent - there are 16 million smokers despite rigorous regulations implemented by the government. “What of the billion smokers who will continue to smoke then? With today’s science and innovation, there must be another, a better way, right?” “For our company, the answer is clear: we need to innovate, and innovate responsibly. By doing something that sounds easy in theory but is much more difficult in practice. And that is to take the smoke out of smoking,” Gorkun explained. PMI has invested seven billion dollars in R&D, hired over 400 scientific experts and resulted to 5,800 patents granted as of 2019. The team produced hundreds of studies that were peer reviewed or are in the process of being peer reviewed.  “This is a testament to our commitment to put science at the forefront as we continue on our quest. It also is a manifestation of our company’s conviction that responsible innovation through science and data overcome problems and result in solutions that work for our consumers,” the PMFTC executive said. The product of PMI’s research and development, a heated tobacco product, IQOS, has been recognized by the US FDA as a fundamentally different product than combustible cigarettes. And “It has been authorized to be marketed in the US under a modified exposure order, which is deemed appropriate for the “promotion of public health” and is “expected to benefit the health of the population.” IQOS is an electronic tobacco heating system, a new patented technology. Its components include a pocket charger and heating device. And this heating device is used only with a tobacco stick -- called HEETS -- that is designed to be heated and not burned, thus producing a vapor. IQOS is smoke-free. It heats real tobacco, and produces no smoke, no fire and no ash.  Today, he said, the company’s significant journey is to meet the need of consumers, equipped with a vision and a product. He cited the global success of IQOS, which today is available in 57 countries. In just five years, there are now fifteen million IQOS users globally, with 72% converting fully to IQOS. “And we’re excited by the fact that our research tells us 59% of Filipino smokers are open to trying smoke-free alternatives as long as they are commercially available and subject to certain product safety standards,” he added. PMFTC, he said, is doing its best to bring smoke-free products within the reach of Filipino adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke and bring us closer to our dream of a Smoke-free Philippines.

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P40M cigarettes from China seized by Customs in Mis. Or.

September 24, 2020

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Imported cigarettes from China valued at P40 million were apprehended by the Bureau of Customs-10 (BOC-10) on Sept. 17, the agency said Tuesday. The contraband arrived at the Mindanao Container Terminal, a sub-port under the jurisdiction of BOC-10, in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, said Cris Angelo Andrade, the bureau’s regional information officer. Andrade said the cargo has no import papers and other documents, prompting the Customs to declare it as a “pre-lodged shipment.” Prior to the contraband’s arrival, the BOC-10 district office has already been alerted of the shipment by the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), Andrade said. Upon arrival at the MCT, the shipment was immediately issued with pre-lodgement control order, he added. The BOC-10 then put out an alert order against the shipment for violation of National Tobacco Administration (NTA) memorandum circular no. 3 series of 2004 and NTA board resolution no. 079-2005 in relation to section 1113 (f) and section 1400 (misdeclaration) of Republic Act 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act. Oliver Valiente, the Customs’ CIIS field station chief, said the illegal shipment was alerted to them through “Project Crocodile.” Project Crocodile is an information-sharing scheme between customs administration of member-countries notifying each other if there are movements of suspicious cigarette shipments. The information provided to the CIIS was relayed through a global database operated jointly by countries involved in international anti-smuggling campaign. In his statement, John Simon, BOC-10 district collector, has reiterated his support in the Bureau’s drive to combat smuggling in the country as he commended the vigilance and dedication to duty of the personnel instrumental in the said apprehension.   “The Port of Cagayan de Oro will remain steadfast in its mandate to protect the country’s borders by preventing the entry of smuggled goods,” Simon said. Early this month, BOC-10 led the destruction through shredding of 2,150 reams of cigarettes from China and other countries. In a previous interview, Simon said the condemned items were apprehended when the consignees failed to pay duties and taxes in violation of RA 10836.

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