Aringay, La Union, July 14, 2003 By Teddy P. Molina (STAR) Legislators and farmers may be looking at the wrong crystal ball if they think that the newly approved Tobacco Regulation Act will lead towards the eventual demise of the tobacco industry in the country.

This turned up as executives of a leading international cigaret manufacturer predicted a "robust future" for their company despite the stringent regulations on cigarets provided for in the new law.

"We intend to stay here for the long term. I see a robust future for Philip Morris in the Philippines," Chris Nelson, managing director of Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc., said during a press conference here Tuesday.

He praised the cigaret company’s workforce in the country, totaling 700, whom the British executive acknowledged as "highly skilled and motivated."

Nelson sees a leap in their procurement requirements in the years ahead from Philip Morris present 20-percent market share. They will do this, he said, with an eye on improving the quality of local leaf production.

Earlier, the Solidarity of Tobacco Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) raised the alarm that tobacco farming is headed for extinction with the passage of the Tobacco Regulation Act.

Senate President Franklin Drilon had also asked President Arroyo to release some P2 billion in excise tax revenue shares due the Ilocos tobacco growing provinces. The amount, he said, will serve as safety net to prepare tobacco farmers for their possible shift to other crops while also noting that they suffered huge losses in the last tobacco season.

The law restricts smoking in many areas especially public places, and, after certain periods of time, bans cigaret advertisements in various media including billboard displays and sponsorships by cigaret companies of sports activities.

But Nelson and Don McDowell, Philip Morris Philippines operations director, brushed these restrictions aside and appeared bullish.

"There has also been regulations in other countries," they said. "Theirs are more prohibitive in other countries, but (our) business thrives," Nelson stressed.

They said they welcome the regulations as they asserted that these regulations would make them plan their business strategy "and then we can move forward."

They are also taking advantage of the regulations as an opportunity for the company’s agronomists to make the farmers follow quality production techniques and programs.

They boasted of Isabela province’s feat of being able to export burley tobacco for the first time last year. Chief agronomist Mark Johnson Hill said the achievement was due to the participating farmers’ strict compliance with Philip Morris’ production techniques.

Philip Morris maintain a $300-million plant in Batangas that was recently inaugurated by President Arroyo.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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