As All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) approach, it is timely to discuss some vital statistics.
DECLINING BIRTHS, RISING DEATHS
Last week, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released the latest data on births and deaths in the Philippines and two trends are emerging. One, there were fewer births in 2020 compared to 2019 and even fewer births in 2021 compared to 2020 by an average of 26,293 less per month from January to July. Two, there were fewer deaths in 2020 compared to 2019, then a big increase in the number of deaths in 2021 compared to January-July 2019 by an average of 12,229/month and January-July 2020 by an average of 14,332/month (see Table 1).
The decline in births in 2020 could be due to the decline in the population growth rate, but the decline in 2021 in particular could be due to lockdowns and fewer marriages in 2020. The big increase in the number of deaths in 2021, especially starting March, coincided with the start of mass vaccination that month. This could be pure coincidence and not causality — many sick people did not get sufficient check-ups and monitoring because of the prolonged lockdowns and they deteriorated. Or there is causality — the vaccines may have triggered direct and indirect deaths especially among the elderly and young who have comorbidities.
(Ed’s Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are clear: “COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.” Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC Also read https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-vaccines-safety and https://www.bworldonline.com/patient-safety-is-at-the-heart-of-covid%E2%80%9119-vaccine-development/)
DEATHS FROM NCDs FLATLINE AS SMOKING INCIDENCE DECLINES
Speaking of deaths and mortality, I saw data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) 2021. Deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases (CRD) are not rising even as people are getting wealthier and consume more processed and sugary food and drinks, and consume more alcohol and tobacco. Many health authorities, national and multilateral, often claim this causality between “sin products” and a rise in NCDs deaths — that is why they keep pushing for higher taxes in sugar, alcohol, and tobacco products.
Then I checked the prevalence of smoking among rich and developing East Asians, it is declining from 2010 to 2018. In the Philippines for instance, there was a decrease from 28.6% of adult population to 24.3% over the same period. Mortality from NCDs in the Philippines is practically flat — 24.4% of those 30-70 years old in 2010 and 24.6% in 2018 (see Table 2).
WHO COP9 AND MOP2 ON TOBACCO CONTROL
On Nov. 8-13, the 9th Conference of Parties (COP9) of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) will be held. Then on Nov. 15-18, the 2nd Meeting of Parties (MOP2) to the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products will be held.
As the name of meetings suggest, COP9 will control legal tobacco while MOP2 will control illegal tobacco. Which is an indirect admission by the WHO and member-governments that as they over-tax and restrict, if not prohibit, legal cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) and variants, they indirectly created a market for illegal cigarettes and HTPs. And they need more meetings and intervention to control a second problem that was created by their first intervention.
ABSENCE OF DEBATE AND CONTRARY SECTORS
Like the dominant narratives that climate change is only man-made and not natural or nature-made, or COVID-19 can be controlled only by vax immunity and not natural immunity, the WHO FCTC and Protocol on illicit tobacco narrative is that more government intervention, not relaxation, will control tobacco consumption.
So, most if not all COP and MOP events featured and paraded only the side of governments, WHO, and other multilaterals, health NGOs, and medical groups that jump with joy when there are more tobacco, alcohol, and sugar taxes.
I read that the Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) and Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) protested the plan of the Department of Health (DoH) and Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to exclude them and that only anti-tobacco groups in the country will be invited to the COP9.
This is weird because government excise tax revenues from tobacco alone are huge: P77 billion in 2019, P77.9 billion in 2020, P82.2 billion projected in 2021, and P94.8 billion projected in 2022. So, government enjoys more money from more smokers and farmers producing legal tobacco then excludes the same farmers and growers from discussions.
Recall that the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability has conducted an investigation on the FDA, which initially denied and later admitted that they received over $150,000 from private lobby groups in the US to regulate and restrict vapes. See my Oct. 4 column in this paper.*
MORE TOBACCO TAXES, MORE SMUGGLING
My paper, “Lessons in high tobacco taxes and smuggling in the Philippines”** — 65 pages long including an annex — was published by the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) last week. It concluded, among others, that as government restricts and over-taxes legal tobacco, illicit tobacco becomes more dynamic. The winners are: a.) corrupt government officials who allow and protect smuggling in exchange for high monetary rewards; and, b.) criminal gangs and terrorist groups engaged in this and related activities. And overall corruption in government increases, not decreases.
Thus, COP9 and MOP2 should hear the other side, the tobacco growers, smoking and vaping groups, scientists who research on alternatives to cigarettes like vapes and HTPs. The WHO is silent on rising deaths by tens of thousands at least in the Philippines coinciding with more vaccination, then it is noisy on tobacco where death from NCDs is not rising.