Picture and text warnings on cigarette packs have been effective in encouraging smokers to quit smoking, but failure to enforce companies to change the current health warning will not encourage people to quit smoking and smokers are more susceptible to complications caused by Covid-19.

Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) said the Ministry of Health had announced that the warnings would be changed every two years. In compliance with the announcement, the ministry notified tobacco companies in December 2020 to change the warning, which did not happen.

CMH said on July 20 that according to the announcement, from August 1, all cigarette packs on the market must have new text and pictures as determined by the ministry.

“If the picture isn’t changed, the effectiveness of the health warning will be reduced because people have become accustomed to the same picture. So, the Ministry of Health decided that the health warning must be changed every two years,” the CMH said.

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine could not be reached for comment on July 20.

Citing scientific research, CMH said putting a picture health warning on packs of cigarettes is highly effective. The 2018 study in Thailand on the effectiveness of picture health warnings on 85 per cent of cigarette packs revealed that the warning was highly effective and prevented people from starting to smoke among non-smokers.

In a separate case, a study by Australia’s Ministry of Health on the effectiveness of cigarette packs bearing a picture health warning revealed tobacco users learn about the impact of smoking. So, smokers started to worry about their health and they quit smoking.

CMH executive director Mom Kong told The Post on July 20 that a picture health warning on cigarette packs urged smokers to quit cigarettes and prevented women and children from smoking.

He added that quitting smoking also prevented the spread of Covid-19 as smoking increased the risk of transmission. If a smoker is infected, the complications caused by the disease are more severe.

“The application of this health warning is of prime importance, especially when we are currently combating Covid-19. Smoking cigarettes is recognised as a factor in transmitting Covid-19. When a smoker catches Covid-19, his condition will be more severe than a non-smoker, thereby leaving a lot of complications after treatment,” he stated.

Mom Kong believed that cigarette companies will follow the ministry’s advice. Because if they fail to follow it, they will be fined up to four million riel ($1,000) and the fine will increase twofold if they continue to disobey the advice.

According to the WHO FCTC Investment Case for Cambodia in 2019, tobacco products had endangered human health because half of tobacco users had fallen ill, were disabled and died prematurely. Approximately 15,000 Cambodian people die from tobacco use every year and costs Cambodia $1.4 trillion.