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Gov’t policy on public health is not for sale

A lawmaker reiterated the call for an investigation into the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) questionable receipt of private funding from international private groups, The Union and Bloomberg Initiative, in exchange for the issuance of pre-defined policies on e-cigarettes or vapor products and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

“Government policies and regulations should not be influenced by any vested foreign interest. It is incumbent for Congress to investigate 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. Until the House investigation is concluded, the FDA should not proceed with its proposed guidelines and public consultations that have left many stakeholders dissatisfied and feeling ignored,” Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Savellano said.

On 2 December 2020, Rep. Savellano and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed House Resolution 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 and institutions in exchange for specific and pre-defined policies directed against a legitimate industry and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.

According to the legislators, the evil they seek to address are scenarios where private institutions could simply “purchase” government policy, in circumvention of existing laws, and in the furtherance of their own private agendas and deliverables. The call for a House inquiry came after the FDA officials’ denial of receiving grants from foreign groups was refuted and actual donor declarations showed that the agency received funding from these groups.

As the highest policy and lawmaking 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 interest. Sovereignty resides in our people and not in any moneyed ideology or movement. As representatives of our people, it is our duty to ensure this,” the resolution stated.

Rep. Savellano had personally attended the online public consultation on the FDA’s draft guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs where he witnessed firsthand the “deficiencies in the proceedings”. The lawmaker shared that stakeholders were not allowed to speak during the hearing and were instead instructed to pose their questions in a chat box with no opportunity for an open and meaningful discussion.

According to Rep. Savellano, various groups reached out to him for help because their concerns and comments on FDA’s draft guidelines remain unheeded and ignored, and they feared that said guidelines will result in a de facto ban of e-cigarettes and HTPs, which are legitimate products.

Prior to the hearing, industry players, consumers, and other stakeholders gave written submissions to the FDA, which they say were not addressed during the public consultation, Rep. Savellano shared.

“Considering that only two public consultations were scheduled and the tremendous impact these Guidelines would have on the business and livelihood of industry stakeholders as well the rights of consumers, the FDA should have been willing to address their concerns,” the lawmakers said on the resolution.

The resolution cited RA No. 6713 or The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees, which “expressly prohibits public officials from accepting any monetary consideration in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by them”.

“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.