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Govt sizes up Philip Morris WTO claim

Commerce staff deny opposing lawsuit


The Office of the Attorney General has prepared to indict Philip Morris in a tax evasion case but a World Trade Organisation ruling is giving pause. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The government is not sure whether a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling cited by tobacco giant Philip Morris will have any impact on a lawsuit it is set to file against the firm.

Philip Morris (Thailand) Limited (PMTL) is accused of making false declarations about the value of cigarettes it imported from the Philippines and depriving the government of an estimated 68 billion baht in tax revenue.

According to a probe by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) launched in 2005, PMTL under-reported the value of its products when declaring them to the Customs Department between 2003 and 2007.

Philip Morris claims the WTO ruling stems from a trade dispute between Thailand and the Philippines.

The company says the world trade body issued a ruling against Thailand in 2010 which clearly stated Thailand had no grounds to reject the import price of cigarettes from the Philippines.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Wednesday three issues arise over the ruling claims made by the tobacco giant.

First, he questioned whether the WTO really ruled against Thailand.

If Thailand really lost this dispute, it needs to consider whether it has something to do with Thailand’s legal action against the company, Mr Wissanu said.

The second is whether Thailand can still appeal against the ruling, and lastly what would happen if the country does not comply with the ruling, the deputy premier said.

If it is worth ignoring the ruling, the country can take that risk, he said.

Mr Wissanu said the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) is due to indict the company on Nov 25, and he has informed the cabinet of current events.

The company rejected the government’s allegations.

“The media reports that resurfaced recently completely ignore the fact that PMTL’s import prices have already been reviewed by various Thai and international agencies having the expertise and authority to address customs matters, and all of them concluded that PMTL did nothing wrong,” Pongsathorn Ansusinha, director of PMTL’s Corporate Affairs department, said.

The company welcomed the government’s recent move to look at the dispute carefully before rushing to any decision, adding: “We believe that this is about Thailand’s significant interest in the area of international trade.”

Meanwhile, the Commerce Ministry dismissed media reports the ministry had urged the OAG not to indict the PMTL out of fear of a trade backlash.

Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said the ministry has a clear stance that legal procedures intended to protect the national interest must not be violated by other countries or overseas parties.

“The WTO has no authority to interfere in the judicial procedures of its members in a case of tax evasion,” Ms Apiradi added.

Also on Wednesday, the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand (Ash) urged the government to ignore concerns that legal action against the company would affect Thai and US trade.

Foundation executive director, Prakit Vathesatogkit, said even US state agencies have filed lawsuits against Philip Morris in several cases.

“If the firm is confident it is innocent, it should prove it in court,” he said.

ITIC’s Excise Tax Manual Undermines Best Practice in Tobacco Taxation

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Health bodies push for new law on tobacco

Six key public health organisations and allies Thursday vowed to support the new draft of Tobacco Control Act and called on the government and the National Legislative Assembly to push this law through to protect children and youth.

They also called on the lawmakers to see through the excuses and twisted facts provided by tobacco |firms and not let them interfere in the legislation procedure.

At an academic conference in Chiang Mai province, the group also said that their campaign, via, had won over 12 million signatures as of Tuesday, and their target for 15 million signatures would easily be achieved when the law is up for deliberation in six months.

The organisations behind the campaign include the Thai Public Health Club, the Mohanamai Network Foundation and the Health Professional Association of Thailand.

The effectiveness of the 85% health warning label cigarette pack on responsive smoking behaviors among Thai teenagers in 2015

Conference: Public Health Conference, At Bangkok, Thailand


Prof. Dr.Pimpan Silpasuwan, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Chukiat Viwatwongkasem, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Pratana Satitvipawee, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Nithat Sirichotiratana, Assoc.Prof. Dusit Sujirarat, Assist. Dr. Malinee Sompopcharoen, Assist. Dr. Naruemon Auemaneekul,Mr.Narin Pandee Abstract Significance and background: The Ministry of Public Health of Thailand planned to increase the size of the graphic health warning (HWG) up to 85% on cigarette pack; however, such attempt was much criticized by major international tobacco companies. Hence, a legal challenge and the court battle has highlighted on whether the increasing of the HWG size is necessary, in other words, whether it be able to help reduce smoking effectively. Then, this field experiment was implemented to test the effectiveness of the 85% HWG size on the reduction of cigarette smoking.


Factorial design was implemented among 724 students from four high schools and five colleges in Bangkok Metropolitan areas in 2015. In June 2015, the research participants were exposed to see eight mock-up cigarette packs, in which, the mock-ups have two size of the HWG (55% and 85%), two types of the cigarette pack (plain pack and branded pack), and two kinds of the selected HWG picture (CA mouth and Weaker sex). All students reported their perceptions, as well as, their intention to quit smoking after seeing eight mock-up cigarette packs via the questionnaire.


The results from the questionnaire revealed that (1) the 85% of CA mouth picture on the plain pack significantly increased the intention to quit smoking among the non-smoke students than the picture of Weaker sex; and (2) the increasing size of The HWG on cigarette pack differently interacted with the intention to quit smoking among smoke students via the fear arousal feeling.


The early indication confirmed that the 85% HWG could help increase the intention to quit smoking; thus, the Thai government policy on changing the HWG size is supported.

Cigarette age limit increased to 20

BANGKOK, 28 May 2014 (NNT) – The Cabinet on Wednesday approved the tobacco draft act which prohibits sale of cigarettes to those under 20 years old and raise punishment for offenders.

Deputy Prime Minister Yongyutn Yuthawong said the draft act increased the minimum legal age for cigarette purchase from 18 to 20 years and prohibited sale of individual cigarettes. The draft act also prohibits cigarette sale in some public places such as temples, public health facilities, schools and public parks, the deputy PM added.

The draft act bans cigarette companies from advertising their products as sponsors of contests and competitions. Cigarette advertising is banned in print and online media, TV and movies.

The penalty of imprisonment for those who sell cigarettes to people under 20 years old is increased from one month to one year and fine for smokers in non-smoking areas is raised from 2,000 to 5,000 baht.

Govt finance execs urged to boycott Asian tax forum with tobacco industry sponsors

BANGKOK – Government finance and tax experts from the region are attending the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum that opens in New Delhi today, amid concern that the forum’s main organizer received sponsorships from Big Tobacco.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) issued a word of caution to governments in the ASEAN region, particularly departments of Finance and Customs attending the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum.

The May 5-7 meeting drew flak after the organizers, the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) received sponsorships from, among others, big tobacco companies (Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Group). Moreover, SEATCA noted, tobacco executives from these companies sit on ITIC’s Board of Directors. This, it added, poses a problem to participants from countries that are Parties to the tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The FCTC in Article 5.3 warns governments to protect their public policies from any vested interest of the tobacco industry. To be compliant with FCTC Article 5.3, the Indian Minister of Finance, whom ITIC listed as the Chief Guest of the Asia-Pacific Tax Forum, is not attending the event. His name has been removed from the event website and the program agenda.

The World Bank has also announced withdrawal of its participation and financial support for the event.

The World Bank’s decision affirms the concerns around ITIC’s intentions and sets a positive precedent, said SEATCA. It also strengthens the ongoing global efforts to require greater transparency and distancing by international and intergovernmental agencies from tobacco interests.

According to information in the ITIC website, it has confirmed participation from six ASEAN countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

All countries in the ASEAN region, with the exception of Indonesia, are parties to the WHO FCTC and obligated to enforce the treaty.

Philippines government officials are bound by the DOH-CSC Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 that prohibits civil servants, including all legislative staff, from interacting with the tobacco industry except to the extent necessary for its effective regulation, supervision, or control, said SEATCA.

In 2012 the ITIC, through its president, Daniel Witt, had been aligned with the tobacco industry in opposing the sin tax reform bills that were being supported by the DOF and DOH. The Philippines nonetheless enacted these bills and has successfully implemented the sin tax reform.

ITIC a ‘pro-tobacco’ entity

“While the ITIC claims to be an independent, non-profit organization, it is in fact a pro-tobacco entity that does the bidding for the tobacco industry,” pointed out Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, FCTC Programme Director of SEATCA. “Countries are better off not attending this event and making themselves vulnerable and running foul of the FCTC.”

The Tax Forum will discuss Goods and Services Tax (GST). GST came into force in Malaysia just last April 1, 2015. About two weeks after the GST went into effect, BAT Malaysia declared they were reverting to pre-GST prices for their main cigarette brands.

BAT controls 60 percent of the cigarette market in Malaysia. This means a reduction in cigarette prices and more affordable cigarettes for Malaysians. This move undermines the efforts of the Malaysian Ministry of Health to discourage smoking and raise taxes as a tobacco control measure in compliance with the FCTC.

The ITIC has discouraged the Malaysian government from increasing excise tax on tobacco claiming big tax increases will fuel smuggling, said SEATCA.

The ITIC, meanwhile has released a study on tobacco smuggling in Asia – a study described by SEATCA as containing more myths than facts, because its findings echo tobacco industry positions on tobacco tax. For SEATCA’s critique of the report, CLICK HERE.

Anti-smoking activists fear Philip Morris threat is delaying new law

BANGKOK: Anti-smoking activists today (May 4) questioned whether new legislation aimed at curbing smoking has been held up by fierce lobbying from the tobacco industry.

The new law will see the minimum age for tobacco buyers go from 18 to 20.

The proposed legislation would increase the minimum age at which people can buy tobacco from 18 to 20. The aim is to reduce the number of new smokers.

But the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand (ASH Thailand) has claimed that American tobacco giant Philip Morris International is trying to stall the new law.

ASH Thailand Secretary General Professor Dr Prakit Watheesathokkij, alleged that Philip Morris had submitted a letter to the Ministry of Public Health discouraging the new legislation.

In the letter, Dr Prakit said, the company argued that Thailand need only educate citizens more about the harmful effects of smoking and use existing laws to deter new smokers.

The ASH complaint follows lobbying by a youth network against smoking, which in April urged the government to speed up its deliberation of the bill and forward it to the National Legislative Assembly.

The group’s leader, Supapan Pho-ong, said the group was concerned the bill would run into obstacles after reports it had met with heavy resistance from the tobacco industry.

“We’ve been following the bill’s progress and are wondering why it is being delayed. People have started asking whether foreign corporations have stepped in to block it,” Ms Supapan said.

She said the new law was urgently needed to prevent new smokers as the existing tobacco control law, which has been in force for over two decades, was being undermined by tobacco companies’ marketing strategies.

Philip Morris has frequently brought suits against governments proposing tighter laws, with warnings that it will go for compensation valued in billions of dollars.

It and other tobacco firms sued the Australian government for bringing in plain packaging, with no company colours or logos, but lost. This has not stopped them threatening to sue the British government if it follows the Australian lead.

Philip Morris also sued Norway after that country introduced a ban on cigarette displays in shops. It lost that case, too.

Philip Morris International earns as much as B3 billion a year from sales of tobacco products in Thailand.

Government officials should not endorse any event funded by tobacco industry

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Thai govt urged to implement new tobacco product control

BANGKOK, 10 April 2015 (NNT)- A youth group to prevent new drinkers has expanded its mandate and urged the government to pass tobacco legislation to stop new smokers.

The youth group as well as a group of university students have met with Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong to show support for the government’s efforts to prevent youth smoking.

However, they said that the two-decade-old Tobacco Products Control Act is outdated and cannot adapt to new product developments that sidestep its regulations.

The network has been observing product evolution in the tobacco industry and its impact on consumers. The Deputy Prime Minister said the government has placed great importance on the welfare of children as the future of Thailand.

He added that the law must first be deliberated by the National Legislative Assembly. He insisted that the government will do its best to enforce the law soon.

Kicking the butt

International Network of Health Promotion Foundation Secretary General Professor Prakit Vathesatogkit is an advisor to Thai Health Promotion Foundation, in Thailand.

He and his team have been engaged in the tobacco control movement in Thailand since 1986. He has been a member of the National Committee for Tobacco Control since 1989, being actively involved in all major policy advocacy, tax, pictorial health warnings, TC Act and the setting up of a Health Promotion Fund in Thailand.

“Tobacco control is very important for a country since tobacco use is the most important preventable cause of premature death. It is also the cause of creating economic loss and poverty in a country.” Dr. Prakit said.

He emphasized the importance of medical professionals taking up the leadership in preventing people from picking up the habit of smoking and helping those who are addicted to stop. According to his opinion “smoking is a disease by itself”.

Medical professionals, who have the highest knowledge in health and it being the most prestigious profession to lead the public toward better health, should prevent people from smoking. “A country cannot progress in health without the active involvement of health professionals, in this sphere,” Dr. Prakit emphasized.

The other stakeholders in promoting tobacco control are all leaders who form opinion in society, academe, all Ministries, civil societies, community groups and media.

“I observe in third world countries tobacco control initiatives are getting much worse due to late initiations to adopt policy decisions in tobacco control. Political will for tobacco control efforts is very much lacking while tobacco industry interference is widely prominent and visible. Lack of multi-sectoral involvement at all levels is mostly prominent.

“A government should think of the people’s health before revenue or other perks from the tobacco industry. If a government needs to generate income from tobacco, there are two policy options. Either choose to generate income from tobacco taxes by implementing strong tobacco control programs including regular tax increases or choose to generate income from tobacco taxes by implementing weak tobacco control programs with less emphasis on tax increases.” Dr. Prakit pointed out.

The first option will generate much more net income for the country, stabilizing tobacco consumption and decreasing healthcare costs. While using the second option, the government will receive much less tax revenue, increase smoking consumption and health costs. A government may choose the second option, either due to ignorance or inability to overcome industry influences or due to corruption.

“In the context of Sri Lanka, it is making some progress, but activists need to persistently do more de-normalization of tobacco industry and more policy advocacy and also more funding to support tobacco control is essential,” he said.

Professor Prakit was of the opinion that implementation of pictorial health warnings is one of the best strategies in tobacco control since it incurs no cost to a government. Most importantly, it deglamourizes the cigarette pack and denormalizes the cigarette product as well. Selling cigarettes in loose pack is a problem, but need to be addressed directly.

In ‘tobacco control world’ there is a thing called, ‘scream test’. If the tobacco industry keeps quiet when you do something, then the thing that you did probably will have little or no effect in tobacco control. If the tobacco industry gets agitated or works against what we did or proposed, it means that we did the “right thing”. If they seek legal remedy against what we did, it means that we have taken “effective measures”.

Australia’s success in reducing smoking is powerful evidence that strong measures like plain packaging can have an immediate and measureable impact among both youth and adults.

Australia was among the first countries to introduce graphic health warnings on cigarette packets and restrict tobacco advertising.

The tobacco industry has also recently promoted misleading data in an attempt to discredit plain packaging in Australia. But the new Australian survey shows the tobacco industry’s worst nightmares are coming true: Cutting-edge policies like plain packaging can contribute to significant declines in tobacco use.

Professor Prakit mentioned that tax is the most effective intervention in tobacco control and that tobacco industry opposes this policy the most.

In addition, inadequate funding for tobacco control and lack of multisectoral involvement has made the implementation process of FCTC’s Article 5.3 (Industry interference) guidelines, difficult.

A true tobacco control activist must act where it matters, must take on the challenges from tobacco industry, be persistent and have a positive thinking pattern and believe that justice will prevail.

Professor Prakit’s amiable and intellectual advice was, “Finally, always remember that we work for a good cause and we will win, eventually.”