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Expert: Bloomberg donation to PH FDA ‘leaves a foul taste in the mouth’

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International public health experts and tobacco harm reduction (THR) advocates slammed Bloomberg-funded groups for putting the Philippines Food and Drug Administration in a tight spot when they poured in funds to promote anti-vaping agenda in the country that may undermine the independence of the regulatory agency which is in the process of drafting the regulation on electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

“This is obviously a real concern.  The overriding issue is indeed transparency and the requirements that a regulatory body follow any requirements or 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,” Health policy consultant Scott D. Ballin said.

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.

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“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.

Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano and 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 lawmakers called for an inquiry following 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, that they received funding from The Union and Bloomberg Initiative which are international private groups that advocate against all forms of tobacco products, including ENDS and HTPs.

Dr. Joel L. Nitzkin, a US physician who was cross-trained in public administration, agreed about the need to shed light on the Philippines FDA case. “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,” he said.

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


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