Myanmar ranks last in ASEAN tobacco control study

17 November 2016:

With out-of-date policies, cheap access, and ubiquitous usage, Myanmar ranks last in tobacco control, according to a survey of the region released last week.

According to a study by a regional tobacco control alliance, Myanmar’s smoking policies are badly out of date. Photo: Staff

According to a study by a regional tobacco control alliance, Myanmar’s smoking policies are badly out of date. Photo: Staff

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) study measures each of the ASEAN countries’ implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) framework for tobacco control. Myanmar scored 45.7 out of 100, falling just behind the Philippines and Laos. Singapore topped the list with a score of 80.5.

Myanmar adopted the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law on May 4, 2006, to reduce the number of people using tobacco and tobacco-related products. The law contains rules on non-smoking areas and regulations to control the sale, production and advertising of tobacco products.

However, according to the SEATCA survey, Myanmar lags behind other countries in its banning of smoking in indoor workspaces, including bars and restaurants, and indoor public places. It is the only country that has not regularly updated its tobacco control policy and strategy, according to the study.

While it falls in the middle of the pack for taxation of tobacco products, Myanmar stands alone as the only country in the region that does not spend any public money on tobacco control, according to the study. And, despite the taxation, cigarettes are still fairly cheap: K2000 for a pack of Regular Marl­boros and K800 for a pack of Red Ruby, the most popular brand in the country. Red Ruby’s are the cheapest cigarettes in the region.

The country is also middling in its ability to provide education or cessation programs.

According to the report, the government does not allow tobacco industry officials to sit on government committees or advisory groups that are deciding health policy. However, the government does give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry, according to the report.

Like many of the other countries in the region, regulation of tobacco advertising and sponsorship goes unenforced in many mediums. Tobacco ads are banned in television, movies, print media, and billboards but there is no enforcement of tobacco advertising bans on the internet.

Regulations on the packaging of tobacco products, on the other hand, are fairly strong when compared with other countries in the region. A majority of the packaging is dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of using tobacco.

In February, the government announced that new regulations would go into effect on September 1, requiring that health warnings and graphic photos illustrating the dangers of tobacco use must appear on all brands of cigarette and other tobacco products manufactured in Myanmar.

However, the tobacco companies asked for a six-month reprieve. The Department of Public Health told The Myanmar Times that following appeals from the companies – which cited a lack of awareness among retailers that they could face punishment if they sell incorrectly packaged products – the rules would not go into effect until February 2017.

Once the new law is in full effect, anyone involved in the production, distribution or sale of tobacco products that do not contain a graphic warning label could be subject to a fine of between K10,000 (US$7.95) and K30,000 for a first offence.

According to a 2014 survey, the rate of tobacco use in Myanmar is 26.1 percent of the population, including 43.8pc of men and 8.4pc of women.