International health experts have voiced concerns about the development
In a shocking series of events, General Rolando Enrique Domingo, FDA Director has confirmed that the agency applied for a grant of money from The Union which co-manages the Bloomberg initiative and its major objective was to support “public sector efforts to implement effective policies” to advocate a ban on vapes and heated tobacco products. The proceeding also disclosed that FDA hired employees who were tasked to craft regulatory guidelines for these products raising serious concerns over the FDA’s independence and credibility.
In December 2020, international public health experts in Manilla filed a resolution directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry on the ‘questionable’ receipt of private funding by the Philippines Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies and institutions by Anti-tobacco Bloomberg foundation.
International public health experts and tobacco harm reduction advocates from around the world have voiced serious concerns on the impact of this development influencing the decision of the regulator as well as disregarding the rights and welfare of consumers. This development reinforces the need for regulatory agencies across the world to operate without any interference and influence of foreign institutions.
Deogracias Victor Savellano, Deputy Speaker, Philippines, a co-author of the resolution said, “We hope that through this investigation, we can better protect our independence and sovereignty so that we do not become an easy target for foreign private entities that wish to interfere with national policy.”
Nueva Ecija Rep Estrellita Suansing, another co-author of the resolution inquired about the details of the FDA funding and the purpose of soliciting a grant from The Union while the FDA has its own funds, citing conflict of interest.
“Of course, it is given that whatever will come out in the research, whatever will be the guidelines (on e-cigarettes and HTPs) that you will come up out of the donations of that international source, you will be influenced,” Rep Suansing said.
In another incident seen in Mexico, there was a complete violation of standard Congressional procedure. Mexican lawmakers have strongly spoken against US NGO influence for a bill to ban smoke-free alternatives citing foul play with an employee working with Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an organisation funded by Bloomberg instrumental in drafting the proposed tobacco control legislation.
In the Indian context, over the last five years, the Government has banned over 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for receiving funds from abroad.
However, India’s dismal transition to a ‘Nanny State’ adversely impacting consumer freedom of choice cannot be ignored. The Nanny State is the idea of a government or authorities behaving too protective for their constituents, i.e. interfering with their personal choice and hindering their liberty and right to life.
The developments in the Philippines and Mexico, bring to the fore the critical role of regulatory authorities and think tanks which need to be empowered to operate with complete autonomy without representing the interests of either Government or self-interest bodies. Over the years, Bloomberg Initiative’s anti-tobacco campaigning in India has resulted in stringent regulations on the tobacco industry with high taxes, strong adoption of health warnings on various consumer goods and in extreme cases ban on products like e-cigarettes and vaping products denying millions of Indian smokers the option to switch to better alternatives.