Gov’t policy on public health, not for sale

Gov’t policy on public health, not for sale

EMPHATIC ON the government’s public health policy as “not for sale,” a lawmaker renews the call for an investigation on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) dubious receipt of private funding from international private groups. Earlier reports state that The Union and the Bloomberg Initiative provided funds in private to the agency in exchange for the issuance of predefined policies on e-cigarettes or vapor products and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

FDA investigation is incumbent upon Congress

“Government policies and regulations should not be influenced by any vested foreign interest. It is incumbent upon Congress to investigate the FDA’s receipt of private funds from known anti-tobacco, anti-ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems), and anti-HTP organizations. And how these could have shaped the agency’s adopted policies, Ilocos Sur Representative Deogracias Victor Savellano said. Until the House investigation is complete, the FDA should not proceed with its proposed guidelines and public consultations that have left many stakeholders dissatisfied and feeling ignored, he added.

On 2 December 2020, Representatives Savellano (Ilocos Sur) and Estrellita Suansing (Nueva Ecija) filed House Resolution (HR) No. 1396, directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry on the questionable receipt of private funding by the FDA and other government agencies in exchange for specific and pre-defined policies directed against a legitimate industry and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.

Seeking evil at all cost

Legislators say the evil they seek to address are scenarios where private institutions could simply “purchase” government policy. Doing so would allow them to circumvent existing laws to further their own private agenda and deliverables. The call for an inquiry came after donor declarations from these groups show proof of grants to the agency. These FDA officials initially denied receipt of said grants.

“As the highest policy- and law-making body under the Constitution, Congress is duty-bound to ensure that any and all forms of government policies and regulations are not being driven by any vested foreign interests,” states the resolution. Above all, “sovereignty resides in our people and not in any moneyed ideology or movement.” In a united decision, lawmakers stress that it is their duty to ensure it does.

Consequence of deficient proceedings evident

Representative Savellano attended the online public consultation on the FDA’s draft guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs. He said there were deficiencies in the proceedings. The consultation did not allow stakeholders to speak. They merely posted their question in a chat box, as instructed. They had no opportunity to discuss their issues fairly or in a meaningful manner.

Various groups reached out to Savellano for help. He said their concerns and comments on the FDA’s draft guidelines remain unheeded and ignored. They also fear that the FDA Guidelines will result in a de facto ban of e-cigarettes and HTPs, which are legitimate products, as the public health policy is at stake.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, e-pipes, and e-cigars
are devices that deliver aerosolized nicotine, flavorings, and/or other chemicals into the lungs of users.
The use of ENDS is sometimes referred to as vaping. Photo by Thorn Yang

Industry players, consumers, and other stakeholders sent their written communications prior to the FDA hearing. Representative Savellano said the agency did not address their concerns during the public consultation.

Lawmakers resolve to uphold code of conduct

HR 1396 cites RA No. 6713, also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees. The code expressly prohibits public officials from accepting any monetary consideration in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation they regulate.

In addition, the lawmakers indicate there were only two schedules on public consultations. FDA should have addressed concerns of stakeholders whose businesses and livelihoods will be greatly affected. The consultation also set aside consumers’ rights.

“In accepting monetary consideration from anti-tobacco organizations in exchange for the issuance and implementation of targeted anti-tobacco and anti-ENDS and -HTP policies, FDA officials may be in violation of applicable laws due to their failure to inform stakeholders beforehand of the existence of such arrangement as well as the details of the same”, the lawmakers said.

“We will perform our duty and see to it that government agencies and officials are made accountable if found to have given their foreign grantors undue and unwarranted advantage over our national policies. I want to make it very clear that our government policy on public health is not for sale,” Rep. Savellano stressed. (AI/MTVN/DS)

Featured photo: Representative Deogracias Victor Savellano, Ilocos Sur.

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