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
"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
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."