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Oxford Economics denies study is biased, pro-tobacco

HONG KONG­—London-based think tank Oxford Economics on Wednesday denied allegations that its study on illicit cigarette consumption was biased and pro-tobacco.

Oxford Economics senior economist Oliver Salmon rebuffed the South East Asian Tobacco Control Alliance’s judgment that its second research on illicit trade of tobacco products in Asia, called “Asia-14 illicit Tobacco Indicator” was a “failed” research.

SEATCA earlier stamped “FAILED” the tobacco industry research because it was funded by a giant cigarette firm on illicit trade in 14 other Asian countries, including the Philippines in 2013.

“First in terms of how we are funded, we’d like to think we are very open, within the report. We are very upfront about the conditions under which we have been employed to conduct this research. So we’ve never tried to hide the fact about who funded this report,” Salmon told reporters at W Hotel here.

“We’ve always maintained full academic control, at the end of the day, the figures in front have our name on it, no one else is. It’s our reputation, our credibility with which these figures go out into the public, so we’ll never put anything out there that as a company, we aren’t fully satisfied with the credibility,” he said.

A review conducted by SEATCA led by Prof. Hana Ross, principal research officer of the Economics of Tobacco Control Project at the University of Cape Town, claimed the Asia-14 research failed to provide scientifically sound and unbiased information to policy makers and other tobacco market stakeholders.

“The reason for this is simple. The figures and statistics it reports are products of either incorrect or unverified/unverifiable estimation methods applied to often questionable data from multiple sources that do not blend,” Ross said, adding “that the quality of the original data collection is questionable due to the lack of representativeness and possibly intended bias. Many secondary data come from sources with an obvious conflict of interest.”

Salmon, however, said they have engaged in different talks with SEATCA to discuss the issues.

“Clearly we [SEATCA and Oxford] both agree that illicit trade is an issue in the Asian region, but specifically in the Philippines, and we want to collaborate where possible,” he said.

The Oxford Economics is set to release the full report of the Asia-16 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2014 by next month, the third issue in its series.

In its preliminary release, the study revealed around P22.5 billion were lost in tax revenues due to illicit cigarette consumption in the Philippines in 2014. 

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