Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Moving a step closer to banning tobacco advertising

Moving a step closer to banning tobacco advertising

Moving a step closer to banning tobacco advertising

Billboards plastered with the sporty Mild Seven crew or the suave Davidoff man could

become a thing of the past if Cambodia signs the Framework Convention on Tobacco

Control (FCTC), an international agreement that governs tobacco advertising, smuggling,

labeling, prevention and treatment.

The conclusion on March 1 of a meeting in Geneva saw 171 of the 192 World Health

Organization (WHO) members, including Cambodia, agree to the treaty's final text.

If all goes to plan, the FCTC should be signed by the member countries in May.

Signatories will pledge to reduce smoking-related diseases through a range of measures.

Crucially that includes a reduction or ban on advertising, prominent health warnings

on cigarette packaging, and higher taxes on tobacco products.

Although critics have charged that the final document was watered down, Dr Po Samnang,

deputy director of the National Center for Health Promotion, said the benefits would

be manifold.

"I am optimistic about this program," he said. "We will not lose anything.

If we let tobacco advertising [continue] we will lose because when we smoke the risk

to our health is great [and we] lose economically."

The WHO estimates that by 2020, seven out of every ten smoking-related deaths will

occur in the developing world. Those working in the field say Cambodia's current

laws governing tobacco certainly need an overhaul. For example, there is no law that

forbids the sale of cigarettes to minors, there are no guidelines on tobacco advertising,

and rampant smuggling has plagued the industry for years.

"I think Cambodia is likely to sign [the FCTC], but when it comes to implementation

we are behind other countries," said Yel Daravuth, program director at the Adventist

Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). "Look at Thailand - it has a complete

ban on tobacco advertising."

Cambodia is set to catch up. An interministerial committee on tobacco control has

drafted a law banning advertising, which could pass by the end of the year.

"People, especially in rural areas, when we tell them smoking is bad, ask why

the advertisers are saying something different," said Daravuth. "Banning

advertising will make people believe smoking is bad."

The FCTC also hopes to kill two birds with one stone by stipulating that health warnings

should cover a minimum of 30 percent of the package. As well as sending a health

message to smokers, the warnings, written in the language of the country of origin,

will make it easier to tell if the goods have been smuggled.

"The [FCTC] text on the labeling of tobacco packets is quite strong," said

Greg Hallen, WHO's tobacco control officer. "It has the potential to have a

great effect and reduce smuggling. That does not necessarily address corruption,

but it helps."

Although it will not be easy to implement all the FCTC's requirements in the stipulated

five years, financial and technical support will be provided by richer signatory

countries.

Given time and resources, said Hallen, Cambodia should be able to reap the benefits.

"If a country can implement the full extent of the FCTC, they will do well in

reducing tobacco use," he said. "[But] if they do the minimum the FCTC

demands, they won't do very well at all."

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