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Philippines: TI grabs photo op with Canadian Ambassador

29 April 2018:

The Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines recently found himself in the company of an executive from Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp (PMFTC) at an Earth Day function in Manila. Perhaps the Ambassador was caught by surprise, but the press coverage and social media post told a different story – that the Ambassador and Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp “lead the Earth Day Taga-Ilog Project as they organized a clean-up.” There has been no statement of clarification from the Canadian Embassy to correct the misconception.

WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines state that Parties should establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry and ensure the transparency of those interactions that occur. In the event the tobacco industry engages in any conduct that may create such a perception, Parties should act to prevent or correct this perception. As parties to the FCTC, both Philippines and Canada are obliged to implement Article 5.3.

The Philippines Coast Guards, a government agency which also participated in the Earth Day function, is a tobacco friendly group. Their social media post shows they have accepted sponsorship from Japan Tobacco International. This violates the Department of Health-Civil Service Commission Joint-Memorandum Circular (JMC) that prohibits government officials from receiving sponsorship from the tobacco industry or freely associating in tobacco funded activities.

In 2014, at the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the FCTC adopted a decision to protect their foreign missions from the influence of the tobacco industry under Article 5.3. It is precisely to address situations such as the earth Day event and to prevent it.

The UK and the USA (non-Party) have implemented national policies to protect their overseas missions from being exploited by the tobacco industry. The UK strengthened their implementation of Article 5.3 through a directive to their diplomatic missions following an incident in Panama where the UK diplomats spoke on behalf of the tobacco industry against implementation of FCTC measures.

Despite the UK having such a Directive, in 2017 BAT Bangladesh was exposed for lobbying the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh to negotiate an out-of-court settlement for it to avoid paying BDT 19.24 Billion worth of tax money it evaded. The case is still pending in the Bangladesh High Court. In another incident, UK diplomat participated in a meeting with BAT andPakistan government officials where BAT was opposing warning labels on cigarette packs.

The need to implement this international policy diligently is clearly demonstrated by these incidents.

The Japanese government, which owns about 33 percent of JTI, has used its overseas missions to promote the tobacco business in a few countries in Africa. The Japanese Ambassador to Ethiopia attended the signing ceremony of JTI’s purchase of the Ethiopian National Tobacco Enterprise in July 2016. The Japanese Ambassador to Malawi in 2017 visited the Lilongwe tobacco auction floors praising the tobacco business.

Because of the credibility and high profile of diplomatic missions, the tobacco industry lobbies them for support. Even when the tobacco industry appears together with diplomats at the same functions, it paves the way for future communications. It is time for Parties to the FCTC to implement measures they adopted in 2014 to protect their foreign missions from being misused by the tobacco industry.