26 Oct 2010
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Tobacco control groups celebrate Philippines’ court decision against tobacco multinational
MANILA, Oct 18, 2010 – The global tobacco control community is celebrating a court decision in the Philippines that dismissed a challenge by the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Company (PMFTC) of the Department of Health’s graphic health information policy.
The decision in the Tanauan trial court means that the DOH can go ahead and ban the use of terms like “light” and “low tar” on packages of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Such labels, known as misleading descriptors, trick consumers into believing that such tobacco products are safer than others, but there is no scientific evidence to back such claims.
“This decision upholds the right of the Government of the Philippines to protect the health of its citizens against attacks by tobacco multinationals,” said Ipat Luna, Executive Trustee of HealthJustice. “Enough of this wrangling, the tobacco companies should just comply with the Order which is after all merely in compliance with our treaty obligations.”
The court’s decision was also lauded by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), an international association of more than 350 civil society organizations in over 100 countries working for tobacco control and in support of the global tobacco treaty, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
“With this decision, the courts have removed one important obstacle to the Philippines Government becoming fully compliant with the FCTC,” said Domilyn Villareiz, Regional Coordinator of the FCA for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Western Pacific Region Office (WPRO). “It will encourage tobacco control efforts in other countries that are facing challenges from the multinational tobacco industry.”
Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)stressed that the Philippines signed and ratified the FCTC – which was created under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005 – and committed to complying with Article 11, concerning packaging and labeling, within 3 years of the ratification. Prior to this latest development therefore, the country was already 2 years behind that commitment.
"With this court order, the Philippines can now accelerate the implementation of its obligations under the WHO FCTC, and prove that Filipino leaders and officials value public health more than the interests of tobacco companies," Ritthiphakdee added.
Last week’s court decision could still be challenged by PMFTC, and other tobacco companies have launched similar challenges against the DOH policy in various courts throughout the country.
However, the decision is testimony to the efforts of many Filipinos, said Luna. These include victims of tobacco use and their families; members of the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines; former Senator and Secretary of Health Dr. Juan Flavier, who spearheaded a petition against the tobacco companies’ challenge; the Filipino medical community, and legal experts who supported the case for the DOH to comply with the global treaty.