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Philippines Tobacco Institute attacks smoke-free law

14 July 2018:

The Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), representing Philip Morris and other tobacco companies, has filed two court cases challenging the city government of Balanga for its anti-smoking ordinances. To complement its anti-smoking ordinance and with support of city residents, the city government passed Ordinance No. 16 series of 2016, also known as the Tobacco-Free Generation (TFG) Ordinance of Balanga City, which regulates the sale of tobacco products to all Balangueños born on or after 1 January 2000.

The Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), established in 1989, is a trade association composed of leading tobacco companies in the Philippines. Among its main members are transnational tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco Philippines. During the suit, PTI included the now-defunct Mighty Corporation.

PTI is represented by one of the biggest law firms in the Philippines, Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles’Philip Morris’s lawyer, who represented it in another case against the government 2012.

The PTI has access to tobacco companies’ lawyers who hire the best law firms for their legal defence pitted against underpaid government lawyers with massive case loads. To provide some perspective, according to a news report, average hourly rates at a medium-sized firm are P2,000-2,500 (US$37 – $47) an hour for junior associates. Compare that to the roughly P156 an hour (US$3) or P25,000 ($468) a month for an entry level attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General. A senior associate in a medium-sized firm would average P3,000-P4,000, ($56 – $75) about 10 times what a state solicitor makes per hour.

The PTI champions the Tobacco Regulation Act 2003 (RA9211) which was enacted prior to the WHO FCTC and not fully compliant with the obligations under the Convention. For example, the Philippines does not have a comprehensive ban on advertising and promotions. However each time the government or local agencies move to strengthen their legislations, the PTI challenges their actions using the RA9211.

This is not the first time that PTI has sued a government agency for strengthening tobacco control. In 2011 Rappler reported the PTI asked a Regional Trial Court in Las Pinas City to set aside the implementing rules and regulations of the FDA Act of 2009 which stated that the regulation of tobacco products falls under the purview of the FDA. While initially it looked like a victory for the FDA in the preliminary rulings, the regional court ultimately sided with PTI, stripping the FDA of the authority to supervise the quality of tobacco products on behalf of consumers. See here.

Misinformation and creating confusion are common tactics the PTI uses. For example in March this year the PTI incorrectly asserted that the graphic health warnings should be on cigarette packs manufactured one year following the issuance of the templates by the DOH. “Hence, based on the issuance date of the DOH, the effectivity should be on September 10, 2018 for manufacturers and importers to comply with.” In actual fact the new set of warnings should be enforced by 3 March 2018.

The PTI has a long history of opposing and diluting effective tobacco control measures:

  • 2014: The PTI successfully reduced the size of originally proposed graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.
  • 2010: The Department of Health issued AO 2010-13 requiring tobacco companies to print graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. The PTI opposed the AO saying it is “defective” and “deplorable”, and a violation of the 2003 Tobacco Act. Five separate cases were filed against the Department of health in five local courts.
  • 2010: The PTI opposed tobacco tax reform and a unitary tax system claiming, “Why fix something that ain’t broke.”
  • 2006: The tobacco industry was given a three-year period under RA 9211 to comply with new pack warnings, however it asked for an additional 5 months claiming, “The revision of packaging design is no simple task and could easily take at least seven to eight months to complete.”
  • In 1994, the PTI commenced a lawsuit against regulation requiring that the side panel health warning be replaced by back and front notices covering 25% of both panels
  • In the 1990s, the PTI promoted an ineffective voluntary code that tobacco companies will direct their advertising and promotions only at existing adult smokers and never directed at minors. This is a useless code pushed by the industry in place of regulations.

The PTI is a member of the Inter Agency Committee -Tobacco, the body responsible for the implementation of the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (RA 9211). PTI’s presence in the IAC-T presents a conflict of interest.