THREE members of the House of Representatives urged governments and civil-society stakeholders to go beyond traditional ways and adopt a more progressive and whole-of-society approach in preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
Party-list Rep. Anthony M. Bravo of Coop-Nattco said of the strong demand on NCD-contributing products amid heavy taxation and stricter government policy due to the absence of alternative medicines that are of quality yet affordable.
With this in mind, he suggested enlisting the private sector to dedicate its huge resources to find less harmful alternatives and encouraging such initiatives.
Bravo coauthored with North Cotabato Third District Rep. Jose I. Tejada the recently adopted House Resolution 1885, which enjoins the Department of Health to promote harm mitigation measures as part of its National Tobacco Control Strategy, particularly the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or “vapes” as a less damaging alternative for smokers.
“By way of example, the Philippine Congress has followed the United Kingdom in incorporating alternative nicotine-based products in the framework of the national tobacco control policy,” he said at a breakfast forum held in Quezon City last week.
The solon told reporters that it’s best to quit smoking, but viable alternatives should still be made available for those who can’t stop this vice.
The resolution cited public health experts’ position that smokers who switch to combustion-free products like e-cigarettes can significantly reduce the prevalence of smoking and the risk of developing diseases related to this and, eventually, lessen effects to the general public.
It also stated that the “Philippines can benefit from the learning from the experience of and studies in the UK [United Kingdom], which is at the forefront of smoking harm reduction exercises.”
The lawmakers, likewise, issued their call during the interactive civil-society hearing on the prevention and control of NCDs held recently at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The World Health Organization revealed that NCDs kill 41 million people annually. This is equivalent to 71 percent of all deaths globally.
Every year, 15 million people die from NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years. More than 85 percent of these “premature” deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
“If we are truly serious about accelerating the decline of NCDs, a more progressive and pragmatic approach, in lieu of traditional strategies, such as increasing the regulatory and fiscal burden on industries linked to NCDs, should be seriously considered,” said South Cotabato Second District Rep. Ferdinand L. Hernandez.
The congressman, who is also the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, pointed out that imposing heavy taxes on sweetened beverages, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and other products linked to NCDs may not result in any long-term public health benefit.
He cited the case of the Philippines, where higher taxes on products linked to NCDs “encouraged the proliferation of illicit products,” which provided cheaper and untaxed alternatives that are detrimental to consumers and the economy.
“A truly global accountability framework should be an all-inclusive approach with an indispensable role for the private sector,” Hernandez added.
Ako-Bibol Party-list Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin Jr. agreed with him, saying that environment advocates must be engaged to persuade petroleum, energy and automotive industries to manufacture cleaner alternatives instead of excluding them in international efforts to address pollution and climate change.
The congressman also enjoined other sectors to participate in these initiatives to further solve the problem.
“It’s high time that we call on the alcohol, food, tobacco, and sweetened beverage industries to share in the responsibility of addressing NCDs by coming up with far less harmful alternatives,” he said.