Bangkok, 7 September 2016: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) lauds Myanmar’s government, especially the Ministry of Health and Sport (MOHS), for standing firm on the 1 September 2016 deadline to implement strong pictorial health warnings (PHW) on tobacco packaging. According to the MOHS regulations, the tobacco industry had six months to implement 75% PHW on packaging.
The government put public health first and did not grant the tobacco industry’s request for an extension. Cigarette packs with PHW have started appearing in the market as scheduled.
The fact that there are packs with PHW in the market on 1 September means it is possible for the companies to comply within the time frame set by the government. Both local and foreign cigarette brands were found to be carrying the PHW; however there are still some packs that are not compliant with the law.
According to SEATCA’s Tobacco Packaging and Labelling Index released in May 2016, best practice in the ASEAN region is Thailand’s 3-month compliance deadline given to the industry to comply with its PHW regulation. Myanmar, Lao PDR, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam all gave the tobacco industry 4 to 7 months to comply, which is more than enough time.
“Due to high illiteracy in Myanmar, pictorial warnings are desperately needed to educate consumers and the public on the health harms of tobacco use. Pictorial warnings on packs are easily understood and will help motivate quit attempts and discourage Myanmar’s vulnerable groups especially the poor and the youth from initiating smoking,” said Dr. May Myat Cho, SEATCA’s tobacco control coordinator for Myanmar. “Research shows that health warning labels also decrease the attractiveness and appeal of cigarettes and counter the alluring and persuasive images that tobacco companies use to promote their products.”
“Rural consumers remain the most vulnerable as compliance is usually poor in the rural areas where tobacco companies can take advantage,” she added.
Myanmar ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004 and adopted it in its national legislation to reduce tobacco use in 2006. As a party to the international health treaty, it is required to implement effective packaging and labeling measures for tobacco products within three years of ratification. Delays in its health-warning policies are due to aggressive opposition by the tobacco industry and its allies.
“75% PHW with text description appearing on both front and back of tobacco packs in Myanmar is a great initiative by the MOHS and a great investment in health for Myanmar’s people. It is one of the milestones in the history of tobacco control in the country and in the ASEAN region, however further monitoring is needed to ensure full compliance,” remarked Dr. Cho.
Tobacco use remains a major public health issue in Myanmar. 43.8% of Myanmar men (STEP Survey in 2014) and 30% of Myanmar boys (GYTS in 2011) smoke, and every year, more than 70,000 people die of preventable tobacco-related diseases in Myanmar.
Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Officer – SEATCA
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