Cambodia - govt gets serious about enforcing text warnings on cigarette packs..

Photo by: Pha Lina
September 23, 2010 - The Health Ministry has ramped up efforts to enforce a new sub-decree making it mandatory for all cigarettes sold in the Kingdom to feature written health warnings, issuing letters to an undisclosed number of firms that were not yet in compliance, an official said yesterday.

Khun Sokrin, director of the ministry’s National Health Promotion Centre, said that “most, but not all” tobacco manufacturers and importers had fulfilled the terms of the sub-decree, which went into effect on July 20. Health Minister Mam Bunheng said at the end of last month that few firms were in compliance.

Background: The Council of Ministers approved a sub-decree on Friday, August 14th that will require health warnings to be printed on the outside of cigarette packages. Under the presidency of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the council released a statement saying that the purpose of these warnings will be "to educate people, especially children and housewives, about the consequences of smoking, and to counter any deceiving advertisements from tobacco companies". (Cambodia - now favors text only warnings on cigarette packs..)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday, January 20th unveiled mandatory text-only cigarette warnings that all manufacturers and importers will need to include on packages sold in the Kingdom beginning in July 2010, a regulation that has disappointed public health workers pushing for visual warnings, which are believed to be much more effective smoking deterrents. (Cambodia - text only cigarette warnings starting July 2010..)

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of smoking in Southeast Asia – 48 percent of men and 3.6 percent of women over the age of 18 smoke cigarettes, and 17 percent of women and 1 percent of men chew tobacco, according to a 2005 survey that was published by the Ministry of Planning in 2009.
On Monday, September 20th the ministry sent out two letters – one thanking companies that were using the warnings, and another “urging” those that had missed the deadline to begin using them, Khun Sokrin said. In addition, he said, the ministry earlier this month aired a statement on Cambodia Television Network urging companies that have not complied to do so immediately. Officials have been delivering the same message on radio programmes over the past 10 days, he said. “The deadline has passed,” Khun Sokrin said.

The sub-decree outlines three steps for enforcement: issuing warning letters, temporarily suspending violators and, finally, permanently closing down firms that fail to comply.

Khun Sokrin said yesterday that he was not at liberty to disclose the number or names of firms that were not using the warnings.

However, Kun Lim, head of corporate affairs for British American Tobacco Cambodia (BATC), said this week that at least eight out of 14 major distributing companies were in violation of the sub-decree. “Enforcement is weak,” Kun Lim said. “I’d just appeal to the Ministry of Health and governing law agency to please step up, because it’s been a long time.”

Officials said last month that cigarette packages were still appearing on shelves without warnings because stores were unloading stock that had been delivered before the sub-decree went into effect. Kun Lim said at the time that it could take three or four months for all of the old stock to be sold off.

But Kun Lim said yesterday that some firms had yet to send new stock featuring the warnings to stores, citing reports from staffers sent out by BATC to observe incoming market and wholesale stock. Representatives of several of the eight firms identified by Kun Lim said yesterday that they had already complied with the sub-decree or that they would do so soon.

“Right now, the manufacturer has not put warnings on the packages, but we are still planning,” said Hen Lim, the Cambodian distributor for Hong Kong International Tobacco (HKIT), which manufactures brands such as Marce, Phnom Meas and Yellow Elephant. Hen Lim said that HKIT “supports” the new law “because it is a right for residents to know risks”.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at Go Well Tobacco International Pte Ltd – the distributor of the brands GD, Panda and Era White and Blue – said the company had already placed warnings on its stock.

The warnings are a component of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Cambodia ratified in 2005.

Last month, the Health Ministry announced a sweeping ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion, which is also part of the effort to come into compliance with the convention. (Cambodia - govt will soon ban tobacco advertising..)

Reference: Tobacco warnings enforced, Keeley Smith and Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post, 9/22/2010.

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- Cambodia is a member of Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)..