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Govt may sign tobacco treaty

Govt may sign tobacco treaty

The government is moving closer to signing an international tobacco treaty that

will regulate the industry by banning advertising, tackling smuggling, and

treating addiction.

Two ministerial representatives will attend a meeting

in Geneva next month, to discuss the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

(FCTC). The meeting is a prelude to the signing of the framework in Switzerland

in May.

The director of the National Center for Health Promotion, Dr Lim

Thai Pheang, is confident the government will sign the convention and introduce

new tobacco laws.

"Each country will be pushed to follow implementation

after signing in May, to protect people's health and strengthen laws," Dr Lim

said. "For example, packets will be labeled so you will know if they end up in

Vietnam."

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that smuggled

cigarettes in Cambodia comprised more than 35 percent of domestic sales in 2000.

That is one of the highest rates in the world, and combating won't be

easy.

Market researcher Tim Smyth has watched the nature of smuggling

change dramatically over the past four years.

"Every man and his dog was

bringing cigarettes into this country back then," Smyth said. "It has become

more of an organized, concentrated business, and there is more control in terms

of local production now.

"[It is a question of] whether there is the will

now to stop the smuggling. There are a lot of people involved in it. Smuggling

will be a political football, but the government doesn't have the capacity to

shut it down."

WHO said the amount of smuggling that takes place within a

country is related more to levels of corruption than the level of taxation.

Until corruption is tackled, said one observer, who spoke on condition of

anonymity, not much will change.

"For the health sector, the FCTC will be

easy to follow, but for some articles related to other ministries it could be

difficult," he said.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) estimated

that around $80 million of cigarettes were officially imported in 2001. Added to

that is local production, both legitimate and illegitimate.

The

International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that re-exports in 2001 totaled $180

million, said country head Robert Hagemann, with the bulk of those

cigarettes.

The world's second-largest tobacco company, British American

Tobacco (BAT) manufactures cigarettes here. BAT spokesperson Thierry de Roland

Peel said the illegal trade of hand-rolled cigarettes - poor quality knock-offs

of tailored cigarettes - was a major problem for the company.

"They have

taken 35 percent of the market and they pay no taxes," he said. "They have no

quality control, nothing. We lose a lot a lot of money and we lose market share

and revenue.

"If everybody is paying their whack of revenue cuts, it is a

more level playing field. [The government] should not raise taxes, but enforce

that the industry pays all its taxes for revenue."

Another proposal under

the FCTC is to control tobacco advertising. BAT Cambodia said that it, along

with several other tobacco companies, had already begun cutting TV and radio

advertising.

"Now our main advertising is at the point of sale," said

Peel. "We are not targeting youth and we are producing a product for informed

adults. We just want to make a product to go against our competitors."

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