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PIA Press Release

Tobacco farmers seek PNoy's intervention vs WHO ban on tobacco

By Freddie G. Lazaro

San Juan, Ilocos Sur (1 October) -- At least 5,000 tobacco farmers from different provinces in Northern Luzon held a mass action here seeking the intervention of President Benigno Noynoy Aquino III to reject recent recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ban tobacco ingredients in cigarette production.

The mass action was one of the events during the 1st Convention of Tobacco Farmers and Growers of the Philippine in celebration of Asia's Tobacco Growers's Day held every September 29. This year's celebration was held in San Juan, Ilocos Sur.

Among the prominent leaders who attended and supported the rally were Winston Uy - President of the Philippine Aromatic Tobacco Dealers Association (PATDA); Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson - the main author of the RA7171 tobacco excise tax fund; Ilocos Sur Vice Governor Deogracias Victor Savellano; Engr. Mateo Deung of the Trans Manila; Officials from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA); and local leaders.

Uy told that the rally was prompted by the proposed guidelines to Articls 9 and 10 of the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) which ban the use of ingredients in cigarette production.

"These proposed guidelines are set for adoption by the 171 signatory - countries of the FCTC during the 4th Convention of the Parties (COP4) in Uruguay in November 2010. If approved, the guidelines will recommend to member countries, like the Philippines, to pass local legislation banning the use of all ingredients in tobacco products," Uy explained.

He noted that ingredients are necessary for the manufacture of American blend cigarettes which is the type of cigarette prefered by 98 percent of adult smokers in the Philippines.

"An indiscriminate and non- scientific based ban on ingredients will result in a de-facto ban of American blend cigarettes in the Philippines. This would have a significant impact on the tobacco industry, including growers, manufacturers, retailers and other associated industries," he said.

As a crop, tobacco plays a fundamental role in providing income to 2.7 million tobacco farmers and their dependents in Northern Luzon and other tobacco- growing provinces. In addition, income earned from taxes on tobacco products remains a significant element of the government's revenue stream.

"What is at stake here is the contribution of the tobacco industry to the country's economy through job generation, payment of income, excise and other taxes, and infusion of foreign and local capital," Uy said.

Pablito Tindoc, a tobacco farmer leader from Burgos, Ilocos Sur, said; "imagine what will happen to the economy and the agriculture sector of Northern Luzon if there will be a ban in the use of ingredients in cigarettes - it will spell the death of the tobacco industry."

"If this will happen, the country's poverty rate would have an unprecendented increase," Tindoc added.

Meanwhile, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson joined the tobacco farmers in a petition addressed to President Aquino to protect the livelihood of all Filipino- tobacco farmers and workers to sustain the economies of the tobacco-producing provinces and the country as a whole.

Singson, who is the father of the RA 7171 tobacco excise tax law that pour millions of pesos annually to Virginia tobacco producing provinces for livelihood programs, disclosed that despite the presence of all-out campaign against cigarette smoking; the demand of the tobacco products from the Philippines is still very high.

"If we stop producing tobacco; eventually tobacco producing foreign countries will be benefitted," Singson said.

"Tobacco is still the major cash crop in Northern Luzon provinces; if we stop this industry, there will be a domino effect in our country's economy," he added.

Singson disclosed that the tobacco industry is presently contributing billions to the government coffers.

For his part, Vice Governor Savellano urged his counterpart in the different provinces in Northern Luzon to pass a resolution urging the president to reject the WHO proposal banning the tobacco ingredients in cigarette production.

It was recalled that last March 2010, industry stakeholders raised to relevant government agencies there concern that the initial Philippine position to the proposed guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC merely reflected the unilateral stand of the Department of Health (DOH).

To address the lack of consultation, the Deparment of Labor and Employment (DOLE) initiated a tripartite forum among tobacco farmers, industry workers, labor unions, local government units (LGUs) and government agencies. The conference sought to draft a Philippine position to the proposed guidelines of articles 9 and 10 that reflects a balanced policy with inputs and appropriate consultations with other relevant government agencies and affected stakeholders.

In a resolution submitted to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and President Aquino, the Regional Tripartite Industrial Peace Council for the Tobacco Industry also sought broader representation of the country's delegation to the FCTC to include other government agencies.

It was learned that the DOH subsequently relinquished its leadership of the Philippine panel which will represent the country in the COP4 to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). In turn, the DTI conducted further consultations with relevant government agencies and industry stakeholders, and submitted to the WHO last July 2010 a comprehensive position on the proposed guidelines to Articles 9 and 10.

The Philippine position submitted to the WHO supports a balanced policy regulating the use of tobacco ingredients and espouses a science - based support for the ban of any tobacco ingredients.

The country also noted in its position that the proposed guidelines to Articles 9 and 10 is tantamount to a "de-facto" ban on American blend cigarettes and would result in the eradication of the Philippine tobacco industry. (PIA Ilocos Sur) [top]

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