In 2004, 54 percent of Cambodian men 20 and over were smokers.
H ealth officials and opposition party parliamentarians have urged the government to ban the advertising of tobacco products on television and on public streets, saying the promotions provide an incentive for smoking, which will increase health risks.
Lim Thaipheang, director of the National Center for Health Promotion, said Cambodia's smoking rate is higher than other countries in the region, and he plans to call on news media to stop airing advertisements for tobacco products.
Thaipheang said cigarette advertising is currently focused on youth but he did not have reliable data on the percentage of young people who have begun smoking.
"Cigarettes are not a food, they're a poison," he said. "Cigarettes are a hidden killer."
Keo Remy, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian for Phnom Penh, said allowing tobacco companies to advertise is encouraging people to smoke. Although Cambodia does not have a law on tobacco control, the government should restrict its use and inform the public about the dangers of smoking, he said.
"People's health becomes rapidly worse because of smoking," Remy told the Post.
On December 4, Remy, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen seeking a high-level intervention to ban cigarette advertising in the media and public places.
Thaipheang said more than ten tobacco factories are producing cigarettes in Phnom Penh, and many other firms import tobacco products. A government study has shown that most rural men smoke cigarettes - more than urban residents - and the brands they smoke are less expensive.
"Smoking not only affects the smoker, because the secondhand smoke affects others," Thaipheang said.
Yel Daravuth, national officer for the Tobacco-Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), said a preliminary survey in 2005 showed that 49 percent of men from 18 years up and 21 percent of women use tobacco. Twelve percent of people under 18 use tobacco, and 80 percent of children under 13 live with at least one tobacco user.
Daravuth said a National Institute of Statistics survey conducted in 1999 showed that 59 percent of men aged 20 years or more used tobacco. This number dropped to 54 percent in 2004 but it still a major concern, he said.
"Even though we see the smoker rate is decreasing, we are still concerned with the growing amount of cigarette advertising," Daravuth said. "It is easy to attract the youth. I am concerned that in the future the number of smokers will increase if they don't ban advertising."
Kim Kunawath, director general of National Television, said his station has a policy not to accept tobacco advertising. A Beehive radio FM 105 MHz official said the station does not accept tobacco and wine products advertising even though they pay high prices.
On May 24, 2004, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and on November 15, 2005, the National Assembly ratified the convention to which Cambodia became one of 168 signatories.
Article 13 of the FCTC states that each party shall, in accordance with its constitution or constitutional principles, undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. This shall include, in light of the legal environment and technical means available to that party, a comprehensive ban on cross-border advertising, and promotion and sponsorship originating from its territory. In this respect, within the period of five years after entry into force of this convention, each party shall undertake appropriate legislative, executive and administrative procedures.
"I want to see cigarette advertising banned on television, radio and newspapers before five years," Daravuth said. "Five years is too long.
"More than 6,000 smokers die each year from smoking-related diseases," he said.
Daravuth said to reduce the smoking rate the government should increase the tax on cigarettes so when the price rises fewer smokers will be able to afford to buy them.
Nuth Sokhom, Minister of Health said that after Cambodia became a member of FCTC, the government had set up an interministerial committee for controlling tobacco.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) drafted a law on tobacco control last year aimed at banning advertising, controlling tobacco use, increasing taxation and controlling smoking in public parks.
Dy Vanly, health promotion educator at Adventist Development and Relief Agency, said the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has put smoking education material in the school curriculum since 2005 for students in Grades 7 to 9.