(Phnom Penh – August 31, 2009)A Government official last weekend said that the headway of sub-decree on health warnings, which will be signed by the Premier later this year after the second review, is a big step forward to the implementation of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) although without picture warnings.
“It is really a big step forward. The Government is doing a good job for the public health”, said H.E. Dr. Lim Thai Pheang, Director of National Center for Health Promotion of the Ministry of Health.
“We must put in only message warnings”, Thai Pheang said quoting Prime Minister’s speech during the plenary meeting at the Council of Ministers on August 14, 2009 , adding that the FCTC is not a law, that recommended us to make any specific ‘black or white’ act.
“We are very welcomed to the progress because any decisions regarding economic and social affairs are the Government’s ability”, he said in referring to the evolution of sub-decree.
He said the WHO will also hail the progress after the sub-decree officially approved.
WHO also voiced their support to the move. Dr. Yel Daravuth, National Professional Officer of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative said, “In my opinion, I think it is an advancement. It shows that the Government is working and keeping its commitment to the tobacco control it ratifies to the FCTC on November 15, 2005.”
The sub-decree on health warnings was preliminary approved by the Council of Ministers’ plenary meeting on August 14, 2009 after a first draft gone through a long process of Inter-Ministerial meetings, Council of Ministers’ Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) and Lawyers’ Council and Council of Ministers’ meetings, but ruled that the sub-decree are not having the graphic warnings at the present time, and need a review to delete them before the Primer’s signature.
Regional advocates suggest that Cambodia itself has already had the graphic warnings with several brands of cigarette exporting to Singapore. Cambodia has already done it, so it is not “too strange or too early” to stipulate the graphic warnings in the sub-decree. Thailand-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) reports that three exporting cigarette brands are Zen Classic, Oki Menthol and Bonjour menthol-this one is manufactured by Rock International.
The sub-decree consists of 5 chapters and 13 articles, detailing the introduction of all five sets of strong messages warnings on the main faces of cigarette packs, circulating in Cambodia—an effort to make sure that smokers and non-smoker understand that smoking is dangerous as well as punishments on the violated industries before a Tobacco Law, which got stuck at the Council of Ministers, will pass later.
The message warnings, which will be covered 30% on the principal displays of cigarette packs in Cambodia, are ‘Smoking causes lung cancer/ emphysema/ heart diseases/ stroke and tooth decay’.
Though the development is not completely satisfied, Dr. Mom Kong, executive director of Cambodia Movement for Health said “I think it is a progress in response to the implementation of FCTC”, adding that we hope we will have more progress [pictorial warnings] in the future, taking up good examples of some leading neighboring nations.
“Many studies have been done in the region, and majority of respondents agree that strong, prominent picture-based warnings on cigarette packs that convey specific negative health, social and even
financial consequence is more effective in informing the public on the hazards of smoking, than text warnings only. It is also easier to comprehend, most especially by the illiterate and semi-literate
people, who form the largest segment of smokers’ population in developing countries such as Cambodia, recommended Ms. Bangon Ritthiphakdee, director of SEATCA said
A growing body of evidence also proves that pictorial health warnings ‘effectively educates the public on the dangers of smoking, detracts consumers from purchasing cigarettes, and is cost free to governments. But strong political commitment is needed for proper laws to be in place, she added.
Article 11.1 of WHO’s FCTC recommend to have the graphic warnings should be 50% or more of the principal display area, but shall no be less than 30%.
Tobacco industries always argue that the message and graphic warnings would damage their brands and affect the national economics.
So far ASEAN member states like Singapore, Thailand (May 2007), Malaysia (January 1008) and Brunei Darussalam have long been had the pictorial warnings on their cigarette packs. And the moves damage nothing.