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Tobacco sector’s CSR questioned

Law group cites WHO observation that tobacco companies are easing control of their products by influencing governments through donations

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A law group cautioned the government over the weekend from accepting donations from tobacco companies amid the Covid-19 pandemic, describing the sector as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

ImagineLaw on Sunday claimed the tobacco industry “has a long history of using the so-called corporate social responsibility or CSR to interfere with policymaking.

ImagineLaw executive director Atty. Sophia Monica San Luis said in a statement that the World Health Organization had noted efforts by tobacco companies to use CSR during the pandemic to “gain favor” from government.

She said the philanthropic contributions allow the sector to “influence” the government.

The group noted that the government, both national and local, receive billions of pesos in excise taxes from tobacco products, while tobacco farmers grapple to stay afloat for lack of assistance.

For this tobacco planting season, only a few farmers chose to plant tobacco due to the very low farmgate prices forced on them by buyers, the middlemen of the tobacco companies.

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, emphasized the tobacco industry’s role in easing tobacco control policies around the world.

“Tobacco industry interference comes in many forms — exploiting the policymaking processes, fabricating support through front groups, discrediting proven science, and even manipulating public opinion by investing in social causes such as disaster relief and donations,” he explained.

Tobacco companies are trying to steer attention from their harmful products by marketing themselves as part of the solution through outreach programs during the pandemic, ImagineLaw said.

Masked as CSR, tobacco companies have donated masks, Covid-19 testing equipment, ventilators, and recently, vaccination programs, it added.

“But tobacco companies’ products remain harmful and dangerous to the respiratory system, the very same system that the coronavirus attacks,” San Luis explained.

“The tobacco industry will never be an ally in public health as long as its actions are diametrically opposed with the policies meant to protect Filipinos’ health,” she concluded.

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