Less than a week after a government minister said he could not say when long-awaited restrictions on smoking in public places would come into effect, one health official expressed confusion at the seemingly stalled progress, especially as compared to an overnight ban placed last year on e-cigarettes.
“I can’t understand why e-cigarettes were banned, because there was no explanation,” said Dr Sin Sovann, deputy director of the national centre for health promotion at the Ministry of Health. “The ban did not come from my office.”
The sudden prohibition of e-cigarettes and shisha came into effect at the end of February 2014, after an edict from Prime Minister Hun Sen who ordered an “urgent” ban on the products.
Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kimyan, who was also president of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said at the time that e-cigarettes, along with shisha pipes, were to be seized and destroyed, and imports stopped, because they got young people hooked on smoking.
However, an August 2015 study by UK government health body Public Health England (PHE) has found e-cigarettes were vastly less damaging to health than conventional tobacco, which remains almost entirely unregulated in Cambodia.
“While vaping [smoking e-cigarettes] may not be 100% safe, most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals present pose limited danger,” the PHE report reads. “The current best estimate is that e-cigarette use is around 95% less harmful to health than smoking.”
The researchers also dismissed fears that e-cigarettes encouraged young people to take up the habit.
According to Dr Yel Daravath, technical officer at World Health Organisation (WHO) Cambodia, the global health body is not in favour of prohibition.
“WHO recommends that the government regulates e-cigarettes, the same as other cigarettes,” he said.
But whilst a law to introduce graphic health warnings on cigarette packets will come into effect in July, Daravath added, proposed legislation did not include an age restriction on smoking, and the law banning lighting up in public places had still more hurdles to jump.
“The sub-decrees [enacting the law] have two more stages,” he said. “The inter-ministerial meeting and the plenary session of the Council of Ministers.”
The WHO also wants to see a big increase in excise duty on tobacco to discourage smoking, Daravuth added.
A spokesman for the Council of Ministers could not be reached for comment on the status of the sub-decrees.