Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law and Policy in Canada
MANILA — Pressure continues to mount on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as more international public health experts have warned Bloomberg-funded groups against trying to influence the decision of Filipino regulators on tobacco control policy thru foreign grants.
Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law and Policy in Canada, said the donation made by Bloomberg groups to the Philippines FDA could influence the regulatory agency’s future decisions and take away its independent judgment when it comes to tobacco control.
“It is essential that regulatory bodies have the trust of the public. Accepting foreign funding from sources with a vested interest in compromising the FDA’s independence can rapidly destroy that trust. In this case, the money ultimately comes from a US entity with an abstinence-only agenda on low-risk alternatives to cigarettes,” Sweanor said.
Sweanor made the comment after two Filipino congressmen, Ilocos Sur’s First District Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano and Nueva Ecija First District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, called for a congressional probe on the Philippines FDA’s acceptance of foreign funding from Bloomberg, which promotes an anti-vaping agenda, in possible breach of the 1987 Constitution and several laws.
Experts on public health and policy share the same apprehension including former director of Action on Smoking and Health (UK) Clive Bates, National University of Mexico’s Institute of Nuclear Sciences senior researcher Dr. Roberto A. Sussman, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) consumer policy analyst Michelle Minton and Sydney, Australia’s St. Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service director Dr. Alex Wodak.
Bates, a long-standing UK-based tobacco policy expert, said Michael Bloomberg, the American financial services billionaire who is using his wealth to promote his beliefs about the prohibition of vaping products and a punitive “quit or die” approach to tobacco policy, has very little experience on public health and has no real grasp of the lives of the people involved.
“Governments and their agencies should not take money from Bloomberg’s foundation or the worldwide complex of organizations that it funds. The duty of the Philippines FDA is to look after the welfare of Filipinos, not to take instructions from foreign advocacy operations,” said Bates.
Sweanor said Bloomberg’s donation should, in fact, be viewed as interference by a foreign party in local regulation.
“Countries around the world need to protect their regulatory agencies from such interference. One can imagine the response of the United States if Philippines money was offered to its FDA to protect unsanitary food from safer options. The Philippines should respond in the same way to a US effort to deny its people access to safer nicotine products,” Sweanor said.
Dr. Sussman noted Bloomberg’s influence through funding is endemic in low and middle-income countries, “mostly because health ministries become dependent on these funds due to a lack of government funding.”
“These funds are typically grants and donations. They are not accountable, nor scrutinized and their records tend to lie deep below the radar. I hope the example set in the Philippines could spread to other Asian countries and to Latin America and Africa,” Sussman said, referring to the congressional investigation on the donation.
Minton, who is also a senior fellow at the CEI, said several US philanthropists have dedicated enormous resources and energy interfering with the politics and policies of other nations.
“More disturbing is the fact that they seem only to care about imposing their moral agenda, regardless of the needs and interests of local populations,” Minton said.
She noted that most of the world’s smokers reside in low- and middle-income nations where access to traditional smoking cessation therapy is limited. But American lobby groups continue to pressure authorities in those nations to ban the lower risk nicotine, denying people the choice to switch to products that could spare them from the death and disease caused by smoking.
“That’s not charity. It is colonialism and a monstrous violation of human rights,” she said.
Australian physician Dr. Wodak also expressed concern over philanthropic activities in several countries.
“In some countries government and philanthropic behavior is concerning. The analysis is much easier than identifying effective, feasible, reasonable responses,” he said.
Recently US Physician Dr. Joel L. Nitzkin, Health policy consultant Scott D. Ballin who previously worked on U.S. FDA regulation of tobacco, and Prof. David Nutt of Imperial College of London who chairs Drug Science urged authorities to dig deeper into to determine if there were laws violated in the Philippines and the United States. (AI/MTVN)