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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Your money or your life - smokers give both

Your money or your life - smokers give both

Despite monastic rules that forbid it, monk Keo Heng has smoked two packs a day for

the last 10 years.

"When we are stressed or bored, a cigarette is like a good friend that makes

our brain clear," said Heng, 30, who lives at Wat Entagnean in Sihanoukville.

But like a growing number of smokers, Heng realized that cigarettes gave him nothing

and took quite a lot. They were eating away his money and his health - so he decided

to quit.

While tobacco use in Cambodia is still widespread, the number of quitters is on the

rise, according to several surveys published recently.

One of them, produced by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, researched

monasteries in Phnom Penh and four other provinces and found that 23 percent of the

sangha had smoked cigarettes during the previous year, a sharp drop from the 36 percent

they found in the same provinces in 2001.

The survey results were presented during the second National Workshop on Buddhism

and Tobacco Control, held in Phnom Penh May 10 and 11.

Other statistics cited at the conference also showed progress for the anti-tobacco

lobby.

The percentage of male smokers aged 20 years or over fell from 59 percent in 1999

to 54 percent last year, according to a 2004 nationwide survey conducted by the National

Institute of Statistics.

The research found that the number of adult women who used tobacco products had also

dropped 1 percent since 1999 to 6 percent in 2004.

The results are encouraging, but health experts know there is still along way to

go in reducing the negative effects of smoking in the Kingdom.

About 80 percent of children under 13 years old are exposed to secondhand smoke from

at least one regular smoker in the family, said Yel Daravuth, national program coordinator

of the Tobacco Free Initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Daravuth said many people in rural areas believe that smoking homegrown tobacco will

not damage their health as much as commercially produced cigarettes.

"It is a big confusion," Daravuth said.

As well as a gnawing away at smokers' health, cigarettes also take a bite from their

pocketbook.

The average monthly expenditure on tobacco products per household is 14,000 riel,

or $69 million nationwide in 1999, according to one report from the WHO.

That's enough to buy 274,304 tons of high quality rice, or build nearly 28,000 big

wodden homes.

Lim Thaipheang, director of the National Center for Health Promotion estimates that

at least 20 cigarette companies operate in Cambodia and advertise in the media.

"I am not in favor of the advertising, but we do not have the law to ban them,"

Thaipheang said.

The law on tobacco control was drafted in 2001 and is now under consideration at

the Council of Ministers, said Ung Phyrun, secretary of state at the Ministry of

Health.

He said when the law on tobacco control is approved, tobacco advertising will be

banned, its sales near schools and health facilities prohibited, and the tax on its

import increased.

The World No Tobacco day will be held on May 31 with the theme 'Health Professionals

and Tobacco Control'.

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