Tobacco firm, official look ahead as report warns of health crisis.
Farmers and villagers prepare fresh tobacco leaves for sale in Kratie province in this file photograph.
Following a world conference on smoking, an official from major cigarette maker British American Tobacco (Cambodia) said he is in favour of "sensible and practical" laws that mitigate the damage tobacco does to public health, while ensuring that customers could make an informed choice.
"Due to the risky nature of tobacco products, it is important that the tobacco industry is adequately and sensibly regulated," said Kun Lim, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at British American Tobacco (BAT) Cambodia, which manufactures such brands as State Express 555, ARA and Liberation.
Sung Vinntak, the deputy director of the National Centre for Health Promotion (NCHP) at the Health Ministry said tobacco-related illnesses cost Cambodia US$70 million each year and contribute to the deaths of one-third of hospital patients.
"Tobacco not only kills those who use it, is also harms and kills people who live with smokers," said Sung Vinntak. "And the loss of income when a smoker dies devastates families and communities."
Last week, the 14th World Conference on Tobacco and Health held its meeting in India, where delegates were told tobacco will kill 6 million people next year and cause a $500 billion loss to the global economy.
The conference heard that tobacco production had tripled in low- and middle-income countries since 1960, but dropped more than half in rich nations. The two largest smoking nations in the world are China with 325 million smokers and India with 241 million.
"The tobacco industry has shifted its marketing and sales efforts to countries that have less effective public health policies and fewer resources," said Judith Mackay, a special adviser to the World Lung Foundation that prepared a report for the conference, quoted by Zee TV news network.
In the report, health professionals said the industry in Southeast Asia was working hard to prevent a global treaty to curb smoking being implemented. They also accused tobacco firms of trying to influence and even write tobacco control laws, and working to prevent laws being passed in countries such as the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia.
The report also said firms were using their corporate social responsibility programs to try to get around laws in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines. However, the NCHP's Sung Vinntak said Cambodia was moving ahead with its efforts to control smoking.
"Our government has now drafted the tobacco control law and has also created programs to combat smoking," he said.
In the meantime, Kun Lim said BAT, which he said holds 40 percent of the local market and sells more than 3 billion cigarettes annually, has curbed its own marketing.
"While Cambodia is yet to have a tobacco control law in place, we have implemented our self-imposed marketing standards since 2001. We stopped all our TV and radio commercial advertisements."
Kun Lim added that his company adds to the nation's agricultural sector.
He said contract farmers along the Bassac and Mekong rivers had benefitted by supplying BAT with leaf since 1996. The firm employs more than 300 people at its Phnom Penh factory and, he said, it contributes $19 million annually to the local economy. Its parent firm in the United Kingdom reported provisional revenues of £12.2 billion ($17 billion) last year, up 21 percent on 2007.
Living with lung disease
The damage done by smoking was made clear by Khov Gnuon, a 55-year-old ex-smoker from Snaur village in Takeo province. He told the Post Thursday that he contracted lung disease after smoking up to three packs of cigarettes daily.
"Because of my smoking, my family has had to pay $1,000 each year for treatment," Khov Gnuon explained. "I used to cough up blood and a few years ago I came close to suffering a stroke, but luckily the doctor treated me in time."
That was two years ago, and he immediately quit smoking. His health has now improved and his family is better off since he no longer spends money on cigarettes.