x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Tobacco industry investment a habit Philippines cannot afford to kick

Hundreds of anti-smoking advocates picket a large international tobacco fair in the Philippines, a country that has drawn more attention from the industry as western nations pile on restrictions and taxes.

MANILA // Hundreds of anti-smoking advocates yesterday picketed a large international tobacco fair in the Philippines, a country that has drawn more attention from the industry as western nations pile on restrictions and taxes.

A pack of cigarettes costs only about 50 US cents (Dh1.84) here, and nearly one in three Filipinos 15 or older smokes, according to a survey cited by the World Health Organisation. The government supports legislation aimed at discouraging smoking with a new tax, but it is also trying to entice foreign investment to fight rampant poverty and unemployment.

Organisers of the tobacco exhibits, among the largest in the world, said city authorities waived an indoor smoking ban for delegates. Benigno Aquino, the Philippine president, sent a welcome message with hopes the meeting would benefit the country's economy.

One of the protest leaders, Roberto del Rosario, said the government should not have allowed the trade fair to go on.

"This business kills people," said Mr del Rosario, the president of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance-Philippines.

WHO also criticised the gathering that opened in Manila yesterday, saying it provides a platform for the industry to promote "a deadly product in the Philippines and throughout Asia".

Media were barred from the trade exhibits; organisers said the shows were "strictly industry-only private meetings".

They said the Philippines was chosen as a venue "after months of in-depth research locations ... for a number of compelling reasons". It provides opportunities for tobacco and cigarette producers to meet suppliers of raw materials such as leaf, paper, filters and manufacturing equipment.

Dr Shin Young-soo, the WHO director for the Western Pacific, said the Philippines' hosting of the event runs counter to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it signed. The convention requires signatories to completely ban tobacco promotion, advertising and sponsorship.