G-Watch Citizen Action for Health Accountability in Tobacco Control

G-Watch is taking part in a new undertaking that holds government to account in protecting public’s right to health that is endangered by interference by powerful private corporate actors in health-related policies and in public conscientization. The specific private corporate interest we look into are the powerful tobacco industry players whose strong and innovative lobbying work compromise public health.

Specifically, G-Watch is testing citizen monitoring tools that track private sector (tobacco industry) interference and check whether policies and mechanisms that regulate undue private influence and control tobacco use are being implemented effectively. 

What is the Philippine’s policy framework on tobacco control, what are the challenges for effective policy implementation, how does tobacco industry interference undermine public health and how can stronger public engagement address policy issues in a way that advances public good and regulates public harm?

Tobacco control policies 

The Philippines has many tobacco control policies premised on protecting health and public good. This includes levying of higher tax (https://www.doh.gov.ph/node/9509); national smoking ban (https://www.rappler.com/…/170405-smoking-ban-advocates-reac…); control of tobacco interference (http://csc.gov.ph/…/164-csc-doh-joint-memorandum-circular-n…), health information, education and advertisement requirements and others, with RA 9211 (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/…/…/republic-act-no-9211/) as the overall regulatory framework. 

However, whether these policies are being implemented properly is a question, especially given the strong lobbying and influence-peddling of tobacco industry players. 

Strong tobacco industry interference

In the Philippines, tobacco industry lobbying and influence-peddling is extensive. It is considered to be the strongest in Southeast Asia: https://www.rappler.com/…/49586-ph-tobacco-industry-influen…. Big tobacco companies are owned by rich businessmen linked to powerful landed and long-surviving dynasties. 

Tobacco control intervention would come in many forms. One that is hardest is the use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that aims to undermine public information and education campaign on the harmful effects of tobacco. The lack of policy regulating tobacco industry CSR is considered a loophole: https://www.rappler.com/…/30511-loophole-no-ph-law-banning-…. Influence through cultural activities has also been documented: https://www.google.com.ph/…/2948-tobacco-companies-getting-….

Advancing public health through strong public engagement 

The lack of public participation in calling out tobacco industry interference or government dealings with tobacco industry is a key gap in effectively implementing laws. The G-Watch initiative is specifically addressing this by testing citizen monitoring tools accompanied by an advocacy campaign by RIGHTS (see http://rightsnetphils.org).

Greater public participation is deemed necessary since the issue involves contestation between public health, on one hand, and promoting business investments, on the other hand. 

The contestation is apparent in Philippine policy framework on this issue. On one hand, there are regulations on tobacco and tobacco industry interference on the premise of public health or right to health. On the other hand, even the law itself that regulates tobacco (RA 9211) seems to put more weight on business than public health. 

While the said law advances a “balanced policy” (balancing public health and business interests), the tobacco industry has strong representation in the inter-agency committee on tobacco (IACT) that is on top of tobacco regulation created through the law. The said inter-agency body is chaired by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with Department of Health (DoH) as co-chair only. Such unbalanced representation is already being protested by some civil society groups (http://www.healthjustice.ph/?p=1985). This needs stronger support from the public. Showing how tobacco industry interference compromises and weakens the public health interest in the policy can hopefully mobilize greater public interest and engagement on the issue in favor of greater tobacco control.

The citizen monitoring tools being tested were designed following the G-Watch framework to track private sector (tobacco industry) interference and check whether policies and mechanisms to regulate undue private influence and control tobacco use are being implemented. 

The said initiative forms part of a broader international and national campaign for stronger tobacco regulation premised on public health and control of corporate greed. 

G-Watch undertakes this initiative to continue its efforts to engage public health accountability in the Philippines and to expand its understanding of citizen action for accountability looking into the accountability of multinational private/ corporate interest, particularly its overt and covert actions to interfere in policy making and implementation that undermines/ compromises public good. 

This initiative is a G-Watch pilot undertaking in cooperation with RIGHTS and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (https://www.tobaccofreekids.org).