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Smoking graphics 'under review'

090205_05

The govt is reviewing six possible graphics that will be introduced as health warnings on cigarette packages, as it tries to align tobacco control with the international standard by mid-February

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Cigarettes on sale in boxes with no health warnings on them in Phnom Penh this week. The government is moving to add graphic pictoral warnings to such packages this month.

CAMBODIA'S many smokers will soon face large, graphic health warning labels on the back of their cigarette packets as the government looks set to meet a looming World Health Organisation deadline, officials have announced.

According to the Ministry of Health, the government is now working to select its choice out of six possible images to be displayed on packets as part of its commitment to meet the WHOs convention on tobacco control deadline in 10 days.

"As a party to the World Health Organisation convention, Cambodia is required to place large labels and images showing the consequences of the consumption of tobacco products on cigarette packages," said Secretary of State at the Ministry of Health and director of Calmette Hospital, Heng Taykry.

Cambodia ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, alongside approximately 12 other countries, requiring them to take a series of measures to reduce tobacco consumption by February 15.

"We have to implement warning labels on cigarettes packets if we want to respect the convention," said Heng Taykry.

"The pictures will be clear enough for even illiterate people to understand the harmful effects of smoking," he added. "People will fear smoking when they want to smoke."

Lim Thai Pheang, director of National Centre for Health Promotion, said that the "six pictures planned for cigarettes packets are still just drafts" that are currently being viewed by the Ministry of Health and awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers.

"We are now busy viewing the labels and our government is willing [to implement them]," he said

According to Lim Thai Pheang, the deadline set by WHO was not final but a way to hasten discussion between governments and organisations over how best to reduce tobacco consumption.

"February 15 is not a definite deadline for ratified countries like Cambodia to produce warning labels, but was set by WHO to encourage governments to work as quickly as possible," he said.

He said that the labels would not appear on packets straight away, but after at least five or six months of discussions with tobacco companies.

The pictures will be clear... People will fear smoking when they want to smoke.

Warnings should be gradual

Kun Lim, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at British American Tobacco (BAT) Cambodia, said Tuesday that he supported the government's decision to place warning pictures on cigarette packaging, but said that the new labels should be introduced gradually, rather than jumping from small, written warnings to large, graphic ones.
"I really support putting six different illustrated health warnings on cigarette packets, but it is not easy for us to do straight away. We need more time to practice with written warnings," he said, adding that his company had so far felt excluded from discussions between WHO and the Ministry of Health.

"I want them to introduce laws gradually so that we can increase the labels from a five percent text box to a 30 or 40 percent one, before we move to putting pictures on the package," he added.

Smoking 'biggest problem'

According to Keo Krisna, project manager of the Tobacco or Health program (TOH) at the Adventist Development and Relief Agency Cambodia (ADRA), more than 70,000 people died from tobacco-related illness in Cambodia in 2007.

"I think it is good that the government is paying attention to the control of tobacco in Cambodia. It is a good step in reducing the amount of people who die from smoking," he said.

"Smoking is one of the biggest problems in Cambodia. We are worried because we think that the danger from smoking is worse than the danger from traffic accidents, because one smoker can kill many people around them," he said.

According to a 2004 Tobacco survey by the National Institute of Statistics at the Ministry of Planning, smoking prevalence among men 20 years and older is 54 percent (in rural areas it is 56 percent) and women 20 years and over just six percent.

It also showed that the average age of smoking initiation is 20 for men and 26 for women, but up to 10 percent of Cambodians began to smoke between the ages of 10 and 14.

But despite the government's preliminary enthusiasm to reach international standards of cigarette packet warnings, long-term smokers said they were unlikely to feel the blow of new graphic labels.

Meas Touch, a 45-year-old smoker in Kampong Speu province, said that his 10-year addiction to smoking two packs a day meant that the warning labels would seldom affect him.

"I cannot stop smoking even though I try my best, and I know it is dangerous for my health and people around me," he said.

"I don't know about other smokers, whether they are afraid or not, but for me I don't care," he said.

However, he felt that the images could help prevent young people in the future from picking up the habit.

"The pictures will perhaps change the next generation of smokers, but for people who have smoked for a long time already, it will not impact them," he said.

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