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Experts find Bloomberg’s funding of FDA ‘troubling’

PUBLIC health policy experts asked authorities to dig deeper into the alleged transfer of funds by Bloomberg foundation to the Philippines Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and determine if there were laws violated in the Philippines and the United States.

Dr. Joel L. Nitzkin, a US physician who was cross-trained in public administration, said authorities should look at the filing of a resolution by two Filipino congressmen last month calling for a congressional probe on the Philippines FDA’s acceptance of foreign funding from Bloomberg foundation, an American institution.

“We need to know how much money has been donated, both in dollars and as a percentage of the FDA budget. In addition, we need articulation from both donor and recipient ends as to the intended purpose of this donation. If this is as illicit as it appears to be, the next step would be to challenge this in the Philippine courts, and possibly in American courts,” said Nitzkin.

In December 2020, Ilocos Sur First District Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano and Nueva Ecija First District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, filed the resolution directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged “questionable” receipt of private funding by the FDA and other government agencies and institutions “in exchange for the issuance of specific and predefined policies against a legitimate industry under Philippine laws and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.”

The call for an inquiry stemmed from the admission by FDA officials, during a public hearing on October 28, 2020 for the drafting of the general guidelines on the regulation of electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes) and heated tobacco products (HTPs), that they received funding from The Union and Bloomberg Initiative which are international private groups that advocate against all forms of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and HTPs.

Health policy consultant Scott D. Ballin, who previously worked on U.S. FDA regulation of tobacco, described the issue as “troubling” as it involves the direct contribution of funding or money to a regulatory agency.

“This is obviously a real concern. The overriding issue is indeed transparency and the requirements that a regulatory body follow guidelines in ensuring that policy-related decisions are made based on sound science and as part of a transparent regulatory process. If the (tobacco) industry had done this, there would have been outrage coming from public health entities as we well know,” Ballin said.

“Accepting money without disclosure and which might be an ethical if not a legal violation is something else. I don’t have or see enough information in the Philippines situation to see if the money was contributed for a specific purpose, etc. That said, the fact that this was done leaves a foul taste in the mouth,” he said.

Prof. David Nutt of Imperial College of London who chairs Drug Science said it would be interesting to review the Philippine FDA case to determine whether it violated any US charity regulations, particularly if it illicitly interfered in the governance of another state.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity organization of financial services billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, launched in 2019 a $160-million program to promote a worldwide ban on e-cigarettes. The Philippines FDA, however, was tasked under the law to draft the implementing guidelines for the regulation, and not ban, of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products as less harmful alternatives to combustible cigarettes.