Last Friday was World No Tobacco Day and the theme of this year’s campaign is “Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”.
Nicotine in cigarettes is a highly addictive drug, and once smoking has begun, cessation is difficult. Because of this, smoking is likely to become a long-term addiction.
Worldwide, nearly six million people die every year of cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other chronic, long-term health conditions as a result of tobacco consumption. Over the course of the 21st century, tobacco use could kill up to a billion people globally unless urgent action is taken.
According to 2011 data from WHO, it is estimated that close to 10,000 people die every year from diseases related to tobacco use in Cambodia. Consequently, tobacco use imposes enormous economic costs to the country and to the individual.
In February 2005, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) came into force. It is the world’s first global public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization.
It was signed by 168 of the 192 WHO member states and more than 170 WHO member states have become parties to the Convention. Cambodia ratified WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on November 15, 2005.
An important pillar of the Framework Convention is Article 13, which requires all parties to establish a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within five years of the entry into force of the treaty for that party.
To fulfill the Article 13 obligations, the Royal Government of Cambodia adopted a Sub Decree on February 24, 2011, on measures to ban the advertising of tobacco products.
The tobacco industry uses sponsorship and especially corporate social responsibility tactics to trick public opinion into believing in their respectability and good intentions, while they manoeuver to hijack the political and legislative process.
Tobacco is promoted wherever youth can be influenced. Good examples are rock music concerts and sports events, where a climate is created among youngsters that suggests that smoking is considered cool and as normal social behaviour.
To counteract these insidious marketing tactics, governments and civil society must work together to limit the unavoidable exposure of youth to dangerous tobacco marketing.
Towards this end, we have to commend the Phnom Penh Capital City on its outstanding contributions to tobacco control, especially in the enforcement of the Sub-Decree on banning tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship.
For these efforts, the Phnom Penh Capital City was given a special award by WHO on World No Tobacco Day 2013.
The Phnom Penh Capital City’s role in implementing the advertising ban has been exemplary.
One month after the Royal Government of Cambodia approved the Sub-Decree on measures for banning tobacco product advertisements, the Phnom Penh Capital City issued strongly-worded letters to all individuals and entities who were engaged in tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to cease their activities or face the consequences.
Many billboards advertising cigarettes were removed and tobacco advertisements on television and radio and in newspapers and magazines, as well as advertisements on moving vehicles, were no longer permitted.
However, tobacco companies manipulated and violated the Sub-Decree by continuing their advertising at points of sale via cigarette selling stands, small size posters, light-boxes and umbrellas.
In 2012, the Phnom Penh Capital City issued letters to the nine district governors to take stern action to enforce the tobacco advertising ban. The nine districts started to warn owners of points of sale, including restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores and street vendors about the ban.
Then districts started campaigns to confiscate tobacco advertising materials (cigarette selling stands, posters, light-boxes, umbrellas etc). This in turn resulted in wide media coverage in TV and radio stations, newspapers and websites.
A well-known tobacco company immediately requested, through the media, to meet with the governor of Phnom Penh Capital City to discuss the issue. While the governor ignored the request, the company sent an official letter to the governor for a meeting.
Complying with the Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention, the governor turned down the company’s request.
Recently, one tobacco company sought permission from the Phnom Penh Capital City to launch a rock music concert promising that the company would not promote cigarette brands at the whole event.
Nonetheless, the company wanted to place on stage a large picture of the Eiffel Tower, a symbol of a well-known cigarette brand. The Phnom Penh Capital City was resolute in its stand and turned down the request.
This special award on World No Tobacco Day to Phnom Penh Capital City is a firm recognition that the capital city of Cambodia is on par with other capitals in Asia in its commitment to eliminate tobacco advertising and promotions.
No tobacco advertising means less temptation for Cambodia’s youngsters to take up smoking.
We have an obligation to protect our present and future generations from the merchants of death. Make no mistake: the tobacco industry is the enemy of public health.
We are in a battle that we cannot afford to lose.
Dr Pieter JM Van Maaren is the World Health Organization’s Representative in Cambodia.