Thai authorities vow to push ahead with anti-smoking drive

Radio Australia:

Thailand’s Public Health Ministry is planning to press on with tougher anti-tobacco measures, despite a legal setback.

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Plans to increase the size of graphic warnings on cigarette packets were recently put on hold by a successful legal challenge from big tobacco companies.

Despite that, Thailand remains one of the leaders for tobacco control in the region.

Presenter: Bill Birtles

Speakers: Dr Kartono Muhammad from the Indonesia Public Health Association; Mary Assunta Kolandai, Senior Policy Advisor for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance; statement Philip Morris International

BIRTLES: Thailand is one of the most ambitious country’s in South-East Asia when it comes to tobacco control measures.

Cigarette packets sold there are required by law to be half-covered in gruesome health warnings.
But in April this year, the country’s Health Ministry decided to increase the size of the warnings to cover 85
per cent of each packet.
In the past week, that plan was halted, with an administrative court in Bangkok upholding a legal challenge
to the implementation of the new law.
Global tobacco giant, Phillip Morris International, this week issued a statement, saying:
STATEMENT: The decision now clears the way for us to show the Court that this measure is not only illegal
but also unnecessary, given that the health risks of smoking are universally known in Thailand.
BIRTLES: Phillip Morris went on to point out that the health warnings won’t apply to cheap, roll-your-own
tobacco, which the company says makes up half of Thailand’s market.
Several other major  tobacco companies have also taken action over the Thai government’s plan.
Mary Assunta Kolandai  is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. She
says the tobacco companies are fearful about the impact on larger graphic warnings.
KOLANDAI: It’s just logic would indicate that a large warning is an effective one and basically takes away
the attractiveness of the pack.
BIRLTES: She says the plan for expanded warnings would make Thailand a world leader for tobacco
KOLANDAI: If Thailand was allowed to introduce its legislation and carry it, then Thailand will have the l
largest health warning on packs in the world.
BIRTLES: ASEAN countries have some of the highest smoking rates in the world.
According to a report from the Tobacco Control Alliance, smoking rates across South East Asia range from
67 per cent of men in Indonesia to 24 per cent in Singapore.
Female smoking rates are significantly lower.
But Mary Assunta Kolandai says in recent years real progress has been made.
KOLANDAI: There are several countries that have actually also banned publicity of corporate social
responsibility activities of the tobacco companies and these are particularly Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia
and Cambodia have actually banned the publicity. And Thailand has also banned the pack display at retail
outlets, just like Australia.
BIRTLES: Health experts agree that the country of most-concern in the region is Indonesia. Not only does it
have the highest smoking rates, it also has fewer regulations and controls on tobacco advertising.
KOLANDAI: They’re the only country in Asia that has not ratified the global treaty for the WHO framework
Convention on Tobacco Control and it remains the only country that has not banned tobacco advertising.
BIRTLES: But Indonesia is planning to implement new laws next year that will mandate pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets.
Dr Kartono Muhammad from the Indonesia Public Health Association says the tobacco industry is still
fighting the planned changes.
MUHAMMAD: And you know in 2014, there will be a general election, an election for the President, election
for the Member of Parliament and I’m afraid that before this regulation is actually enacted, the tobacco i
industry maybe influence the political parties, the political figures or bribing them, so they will make the
regulation not effective anymore.