ProYosi

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ProYosi (“Pro-Cigarette”) is a smokers’ consumer advocacy group based in Iloilo City, the Philippines, campaigning against what it views as discrimination of the country’s 17 million smokers. 1 It was incorporated as a registered non-profit organisation2on 26 February 2016, although its existence pre-dates this by several years according to local health advocates. 3
ProYosi calls itself the “Voice of Filipino/Pinoy Smokers”. It does not disclose how many members it has, nor who funds it, although it has attempted limited online fundraising. 4 It campaigns against the Philippines government’s health taxes5
and tobacco control legislation including the use of graphic health warnings, 6 public smoking bans and designated smoking areas.
Its President is Anton “Tony” Israel, a former TV presenter who also runs another organisation called the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP), which he created Facebook Pages for in January 2014 and August 20187and registered with regulators8
on 12 November 2018. Both groups have their own dedicated Facebook pages9 listing the same contact number. Israel produces and presents weekly Facebook Live broadcasts on smoking-related issues and legislation. Titled “NCUP Files” and “Kamusta Kayosi” these are presented with two colleagues, Fausto Bubot Francisco and Ahdrian Reyes, 10
and are cross-posted on both sites.

Modelled on International Smokers’ Rights Groups

Among ProYosi and NCUP’s shared Facebook content are posts from tobacco companies and tobacco-industry funded international smokers’ rights groups such as Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) in the UK. Like such groups, ProYosi positions smokers as the victims of tobacco control advocates who infringe upon their right to enjoy a legal product. 11 A rallying cry to its Facebook followers (2,492 as of mid-October 2019) states:

“Smokers, it’s high time we unite and uphold our rights. Proyosi was created to protect the interests of tobacco consumers and balance the unwarranted impacts of ‘hate’ campaigns against us by intolerant anti-smoking groups”.

“Smokers have given-up enough. Still, the smoking ban pushers want even more. Now is no longer about health, but a liberty issue”.

NCUP’s Facebook page (which had 542 followers in October 2019) meanwhile focuses on “Freedom of Consumer Choice” with straplines like “Come on, Let’s Fight Hard”. Since NCUP was created in 2018, ProYosi’s content and messaging has moved beyond a traditional cigarette smoker focus to embrace consumers of other tobacco products: “Smokers, vapers and all nicotine lovers, let’s unite and fight”. Three months before the 2nd Asian Harm Reduction Forum was due to be held in Manila, a special ProYosi episode on 30 August 2018 focused on “Exploring the potential of uniting all nicotine-based consumers”. 12

Echoing Tobacco Industry Arguments

Against Public Smoking Bans and Designated Smoking Areas

A major focus of concern for ProYosi has been President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No 26 (EO 26), which in May 2017 banned smoking and vaping in enclosed public places and indoor venues across the country. 13 ProYosi campaigned hard for self-regulation and against “misinformation” amid initial confusion this was an “absolute” public smoking ban, and carefully praised Duterte for “striking a balance” between the rights of smokers and non-smokers. 14
ProYosi sees its role as “correcting misinformation on smoking in public places” 15 and maintains a watch on cases of what it views as “excessive” interpretations and strict enforcement of EO26 by local government units (LGUs). One episode, for example, examined what it called the “Nannyism of the Quezon City Government” as the city stepped up an anti-smoking drive in June 2018. 16 Anton Israel has also spoken at congressional public hearings, for example in March 2018 on proposals to amend the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, 17 and in February 2019 at the Senate Ways and Means Committee Hearing on Excise Tax on Tobacco Products. 18

Arguments Against “Sin Taxes” Rises

Smokers and the Tobacco Industry Deserve Equal Rights as Taxpayers

In 2019, ProYosi joined tobacco growers and the Federation of Philippines Industries in opposing the Philippines government’s latest rise in taxes on cigarettes from P45 to P90 a pack as part of Bill No.1074. This also aimed to raise the tax on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) in parity with cigarettes. 19 Since 2012, taxes on tobacco and alcohol have been used to fund 85% of the country’s health care system costs, with 15% earmarked for tobacco farmers and workers’ livelihood programmes. 20
In February 2019, ProYosi’s Anton Israel spoke at the Senate public hearing on Excise Tax on Tobacco Products.21 ProYosi’s submission to the Senate Ways and Means Committee argued that – as taxpayers – tobacco consumers and the tobacco industry “deserve equal protection under the law” 22
and that it was time to stop hitting them disproportionately to raise money for the health service:

“From 2013 to 2018, there have been seven consecutive increases on tobacco products. No other product has been taxed this many times as tobacco. Not even alcohol, mining or gambling,” Pro-Yosi President Anton Israel said.

“The tobacco industry also deserves equal protection under the law. Tobacco consumers are also taxpayers who deserve the same protection as those who consume alcohol or sweetened beverages.”

Promoting Harm Reduction and Vaping

ProYosi has increasingly covered vaping and harm reduction since setting up NCUP in 2018. This has included the addition of pro-vaper Ahdrian Reyes to the team, and a number of dedicated Facebook Live episodes on topics such as “Harm Reduction: What is It?” (Sept 2019).
In October 2019, NCUP dedicated a 25-minute episode23 to a legal injunction filed by private vaping companies challenging the constitutionality of the Department of Health’s and Food and Drug Administration’s July 2019 administrative order (AO 2019-007), which aims to regulating electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. 24

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Resources

References

  1. Proyosi, Facebook Page, accessed October 2019
  2. Proyosi.org, About, Facebook, last accessed October 2019
  3. Personal communication with health justice staff in the Philippines, October 2019
  4. Patreon, Proyosi, undated, accessed October 2019
  5. M.F. Imperial, J. Soriano, By law, sin tax hike should also help tobacco farmers, Vera Files, February 2019, accessed October 2019
  6. ProYosi, Graphic Warning Labels on Cigarette Packages are a Form of Cabalistic Magick, Facebook, 12 March 2016, accessed October 2019
  7. Facebook, Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP), page created 29 August 2018, accessed October 2019
  8. Israel shows NCUP certificate of incorporation signed 12 November 2018 at Proyosi Facebook Live Episode 31: 2nd Harm Reduction Forum, 21 November 2018, accessed October 2019
  9. ProYosi’s Facebook page was created 2 September 2015
  10. ProYosi, Bubot Francisco, accessed October 2019
  11. E. A. Smith, R. E. Malone, ‘We will speak as the smoker’: the tobacco industry’s smokers’ rights groups, European Journal of Public Health, Volume 17, Issue 3, June 2007, Pages 306–313, accessed October 2019
  12. Proyosi, Episode 21: “Exploring the potential of uniting all nicotine based consumers”, Anchor.FM Podcasts, 30 August 2018, accessed October 2019
  13. Executive Order No. 26 Providing for the Establishment of Smoke-Free Environments in Public and Enclosed Places, signed 16 May 2017, accessed October 2019
  14. Business Mirror, Smokers group lauds Duterte’s smoking rules under EO 26, 27 September 2017
  15. ProYosi, Correcting misinformation on smoking in public places, Facebook, 9 July 2018, accessed October 2018
  16. Proyosi.org and Smokers.PH, Episode 9: “Nannyism of the Quezon City government”, YouTube, June 2018, accessed October 2019
  17. ProYosi, Anton in a congressional public hearing (March 14, 2018) on proposal to amend the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, Facebook video post, 14 March 2018, accessed October 2019
  18. ProYosi, At the Senate hearing on Excise Tax on Tobacco Products, held February 4, 2019, 13 March 2019, accessed October 2019
  19. Department of Finance, DOF thanks Sen. Cayetano for sponsoring bill on higher ‘sin’ taxes for alcohol, e-cigarettes, website, 27 Sept 2019, accessed October 2019
  20. WHO, Philippines, website, 2015, accessed October 2019
  21. ProYosi, At the Senate hearing on Excise Tax on Tobacco Products, held February 4, 2019, Facebook, 13 March 2019, accessed October 2019
  22. Chino S. Leyco, Groups warn ‘grave consequences’ of higher tobacco tax, Manila Bulletin, 3 February 2019, accessed October 2019
  23. NCUP, https://www.facebook.com/NCUPfiles/videos/447161452815992/UzpfSTY2NjA4MDc0MDQzNjA0NDo5MTA3MjU1NzkzMDQ4OTE/ Episode. 31: Injunction vs. DOH on vaping suspends A.O. 2019-007, YouTube, June 2018, accessed October 2019
  24. A. De Vera, Injunction brings FDA, DOH fight against vaping to court, Manila Bulletin, 17 October 2019, accessed October 2019