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PHL NGO awarded by NY Mayor Bloomberg for anti-tobacco fight

March 22, 2012 11:41pm
Singapore - A small Philippine advocacy group was honored at a major international conference in this city-state Thursday for its fight against the tobacco industry.

HealthJustice Philippines was given a Bloomberg Award for Global Tobacco Control by New York City Mayor and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg for "its terrific job" in monitoring tobacco industry interference in public health policy in the Philippines.

In his acceptance speech, HealthJustice president Dr. Daniel Tan called tobacco industry interference "the single biggest threat to tobacco control."

The award comes at a time of vociferous debate in the Philippines over Congressional proposals to increase sin taxes, including the cigarette tax, to raise government revenues and lower tobacco consumption, especially among the youth.

Proponents argue that a powerful tobacco lobby composed of cigarette companies and congressmen from tobacco-growing regions stands in the way of new sin taxes and other efforts in the Philippines to keep up with tobacco control initiatives in other countries.

Dr. Tan, a pulmonologist, said the tobacco industry's "interference" includes cigarette companies' challenges in court to anti-tobacco policies such as graphic warnings on cigarette packs and even "personal attacks" on advocates like himself.

Tan said in an interview that he and his colleagues once received a postcard of the Marlboro Man with the message on the back, "You don't know what you're getting into."

"That scared us," Tan said.

He and his colleagues can boast of a powerful ally in Bloomberg, one of the world's leading philanthropists, who pledged at Thursday's awards ceremony an additional US$220 million in the next four years for global tobacco control.

HealthJustice will need all the help it can get considering that the Philippines has one of the highest rates of smoking prevalence among the youth in Asia and the cheapest cigarettes.

In addition to HealthJustice Philippines, five organizations from four other countries received awards from Bloomberg, who was introduced by World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan.

The awards were part of the program at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, where Chan was the keynote speaker. -- HS, GMA News
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