So many Buddhist monks are smoking tobacco that Mekong region countries now hold
an international conference on Buddhism and Tobacco Control.
The latest conference in Phnom Penh, on April 27-28, decided to popularize "smoke
A Government survey three years ago revealed 36 percent of Buddhist monks in five
Cambodian provinces were habitual tobacco smokers.
In Cambodia there are 3,980 wats (pagodas, or temples) and 59,470 Buddhist monks.
Tobacco use is held by some authorities to be against Buddhist teachings. Monks say
they are often given tobacco as gifts.
A survey in 2001 by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the Ministry
of Cults and Religion, conducted in four provinces (Svay Rieng, Pursat, Siem Reap
and Kampot) and Phnom Penh found that 36 percent of monks smoked. Anti-smoking health
promotions after the survey resulted in an estimated 1,000 monks stopping the habit.
ADRA and the Ministry of Cults and Religion conducted the second International Conference
on Buddhism and Tobacco Control which was attended by monks from four countries:
Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia. The conference made the following resolutions:
* To build better societies by practical application of Buddhism and by harnessing
the positive contribution of monks and laypeople towards tobacco control.
* To develop fundamental policies in tobacco control that involve active participation
from Buddhist monks and laypeople.
* To provide comprehensive cessation program both for monks who smoke and for laypeople
who wish to be ordained.
* To popularize and expand the existing smoke-free temple policy.
* To advocate the signing and ratification of the framework convention on tobacco
control by all participating countries.
Ung Phyrun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said many cigarette companies
were setting up; they advertised prominently in public places and made huge profits
from Cambodian people.
Lim Thai Pheang, Director of the National Center for Health Promotion, told the Post
on May 4 more than 200 kinds of cigarettes are imported to Cambodia and there are
17 tobacco factories in Phnom Penh, most established in the last two or three years.
Reformed smoker Pao Choeun, 35, a monk at Ampil Bey pagoda in Samrong district of
Takeo said: "I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day four years ago.
"When I was invited to perform a blessing ceremony, the laypeople often gifted
me a carton of cigarettes and sometimes I asked the pagoda boys to buy for me."
Bouakham Bouphavong, director of the Vientiane Capital Fellowship of Buddhism Organization
said: "We will learn and share experiences together on tobacco control and apply
the dhamma from the excellent teachings of the Buddha and present to the people of
"We can update the role of the monk in teaching and helping people against drug
and tobacco abuse, and to live healthy lifestyles."
The World No Tobacco Day will be held on May 31, under the theme "Tobacco and
Should monks smoke? What they
Should monks smoke, and how can they kick the habit?
The Post put these questions to a number of people.
Sok Bunthoeun, 33, chief of monk at Nonmuny pagoda in Meanchey district:
"The monks should not smoke cigarettes, according to the Buddhist law and Buddhist
ethic code. Cigarettes are like the narcotic drugs. Not only the monks but also ordinary
people should avoid smoking.
"We should train the monks to become community advocates for non-smoking and
healthy living. Smoking cigarettes causes cancer, heart disease and wastes money."
Chea Savoeun, Minister of Cults and Religion:
"The monks should not smoke cigarettes, because it affects their health and
wastes money. I estimate that at the moment between 65 and 70 percent of monks are
"We need to work together, the monks and the public, to realize that smoking
is very dangerous to the health. In 2001 the ministry issued a circular to inform
the monks nationwide to reduce and stop smoking cigarettes."
Thav Chanthou, 26, a monk at Wat Langka:
"The Buddhist teachings warned about drugs, not cigarettes. I stopped smoking
in 1997, after I became a monk.
"In my opinion, the monks and lay people should avoid smoking if possible, because
it causes cancer and heart disease. The smokers should learn themselves that they
will get nothing from smoking, they waste money and damage their health.
Greg Hallen, Technical officer for Tobacco Control of World Health Organization
"I cannot speak on behalf of the monks. Even the top leaders of the monks has
said the monks should not be smoking. In a number of Buddhist countries the monks
are not allowed to smoke. Tobacco was brought to Asia a long time after the Buddhist
script was written, so it is not mentioned there, but addictive and harmful substances
"It is only comparatively recently that tobacco has been shown to be addictive
and a deadly cause of disease. So monks in Cambodia are now interpreting the Buddhist
precepts to mean that they should not smoke and should not accept tobacco as an offering.
"Cambodia has a young population and young people will smoke earlier and the
number of smokers will increase. Smoking cigarettes causes mostly cancer, lung cancer
and heart disease."
He said smokers are 10 times more likely to get lung cancer. "You are also at
higher risk of lung cancer if you live near smokers. Basically it's very rare for
someone to get lung cancer if they do not smoke.
"Some people believe that home grown tobacco is not harmful, but there is no
evidence to support this."
Hallen said that in order to reduce smoking among Cambodians, the following actions
were needed: increase the price of tobacco and tax; ban all tobacco marketing and
advertising tobacco products; establish smoke-free areas, and smoke-free public places.
Kuch Sroeun, 26, monk at Wat Langka:
"The Buddhist doctrine warns that monks should not use drugs, and the cigarettes
is like the drug. So the monks should not smoke because it against the Buddhist teachings
and bad for the health.
"To reduce and stop smoking we have to educate smokers about the disadvantage