THE National Tobacco Administration (NTA) will continue opposing any move to reduce tobacco production in the country unless government would effectively put in place measures that will counter the expected loss of jobs that could affect thousands of tobacco farmers and stakeholders.

Rex Antonio P. Teoxon, department manager of the Corporate Planning Department and officer-in-charge of the Industrial Research Department of NTA, reiterated the agency's stand in view of the objective of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Council (FCTC) negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization, in which the Philippines is a signatory, to encourage the stop of tobacco consumption.

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In a meeting held at the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council for Tobacco Industry, Dole Regional Office No. 02 in May, Teoxon reiterated that "unless a law is passed covering health matters relative to smoking, NTA will interpose objection to any direct campaign, measure or initiative which will result to the reduction in [tobacco] production by the farmers, without first putting in place concrete and specific measure or safety nets to counteract the economic dislocation which may result from the campaign, especially at this period of economic adjustment and search for gainful employment among Filipinos."

To implement the FCTC, protocols and guidelines are required, subject to negotiation among the member countries, which send a negotiating panel to present and defend its position.

Teoxon added the NTA is concerned particularly in FCTC's Articles 9 and 10.

Article 9 provides the establishment of guidelines for testing and measuring the contents and emissions of tobacco products and for regulation of these contents and emissions.

Article 10 pertains to measures requiring manufacturers and importers to disclose to government authorities information about the contents and emissions of these products.

Article 9 is sponsored by Canada, which may bring into the international arena its local legislation, Bill C-32 which bans the manufacture and sale of cigarettes containing 5,000 flavorings and additives, including those used in traditional blended cigarettes.

This, Teoxon warned, is threatening the local tobacco industry, to the detriment of stakeholders.

The local tobacco industry, according to Teoxon, provides livelihood and sustenance to two million people including 600,000 tobacco farmers and families. It generates more than P30 billion in taxes annually, which help government fund education, health, welfare, infrastructure and economic programs all over the country.

Under Executive Order 245, the NTA is mandated to improve the economic and living conditions of tobacco farmers and those who depend on the industry.

It is also tasked to promote the balanced and integrated growth of the tobacco industry to help make agriculture a solid basis for industrialization.

Under Republic Act 9211, the agency has been mandated to undertake research and development concerning methods and technologies to reduce the risk of dependence on injury from tobacco usage and exposure or quality assurance for tobacco and its products.

Another petition calls for their opposition to Articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC, which calls for the ban on ingredients in cigarettes other than tobacco.

"We know that smoking can kill but this is a war about those killing themselves slowly and those farmers who are instantly killed," said Asuncion Miniano, a tobacco farmer from Sudipen, La Union, in Filipino.

The farmers said the FCTC policies are extreme and bent on killing instantly the tobacco industry.

"Noon pong isang linggo, araw-araw ay laman ng pahayagan ang utos ng DOH na lagyan ng litrato ng mga sakit na dulot ng sigarilyo ang mga pakete nito," the petition said.

"Ang amin pong tanong, hindi po ba dapat gawin ay ipatupad ang batas na huwag pabayaan makabili ng sigarilyo ang mga batang may edad na 17 pababa." they said citing the case in the United States were graphic pictures are no longer needed because of the strict prohibition of children buying cigarettes.

Industry figures showed almost two-thirds of all cigarettes bought in the Philippines are by per-piece which means two-thirds do not get to see the dire pictorial warnings when they smoke.

"Ang paninigarilyo po ay adult-choice. Ang trabaho po ng DOH ay mag-inform, hindi magdikta," the petition added.

Narvacan Mayor Edgardo Zaragosa said production of tobacco will likely go higher this year but claimed the tobacco industry is indeed in dire straits.

He added he was caught unaware by the policies of the FCTC and he was not given immediate alternatives. Narvacan gets half of its income from tobacco, he said.

Zaragosa also said Articles 9 and 10 will surely end the tobacco industry in the country.

He said there were enough laws like the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, which would regulate the industry but asked why this international act which will kill the tobacco industry is now the one prevailing.

The other petition being passed around the meeting said the FCTC plans to ban ingredients to cigarette products.

"Various ingredients including but not limited to flavorings, humectants and other additives are integral parts of an American-blend cigarette and the proposed total ban is tantamount to banning the manufacture of American-blend cigarettes," the petition said.

The Philippines is a market which is 98 percent American-blend cigarettes, they said. The Articles 9 and 10 are being proposed by Canada which is using and producing entirely Virginia-tobacco cigarettes, an industry spokesman said.

The petition said a multi-partite party to the FCTC including farmer-groups should be sent to discuss these articles. It added thorough consultations with various government agencies not just DOH and other relevant groups from the government, concerned private sector, labor unions and farmers groups should be added.

The petition will be forwarded to President Benigno C. Aquino III.

Meanwhile, Winston Uy, President of the Philippine Aromatic Tobacco Dealers Association (PATDA) said these recommendations do not make sense at all.

"How would a ban on some cigarette products, while ignoring others, benefit people's health? What we do know is that tobacco growers would be severely impacted," Uy said.

It is those people who will be directly affected if the draft guidelines are adopted in the Philippines.

While the NTA is looking for alternative crops for tobacco farmers, its research found the produce or earnings from one hectare of tobacco is equivalent to three hectares planted to rice or corn.

In the last three years, Philippines exported an average annual volume of 8.967 million kilos of tobacco valued at US$31.994 million, which is consists of manufactured tobacco averaging 2.906 million kilos and unmanufactured tobacco averaging 7.029 million kilos.

For the same period, the country's average annual importation of tobacco was 81.079 million kilos valued at US$299.507 million.

In 2008, about 42 million kilos were produced in the country, according to the National Tobacco Administration, and 55 million kilos in 2009. (Mauricio Victa)