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Myanmar ranks last in ASEAN tobacco control study

With out-of-date policies, cheap access, and ubiquitous usage, Myanmar ranks last in tobacco control, according to a survey of the region released last week.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) study measures each of the ASEAN countries’ implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) framework for tobacco control. Myanmar scored 45.7 out of 100, falling just behind the Philippines and Laos. Singapore topped the list with a score of 80.5.

Myanmar adopted the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law on May 4, 2006, to reduce the number of people using tobacco and tobacco-related products. The law contains rules on non-smoking areas and regulations to control the sale, production and advertising of tobacco products.

However, according to the SEATCA survey, Myanmar lags behind other countries in its banning of smoking in indoor workspaces, including bars and restaurants, and indoor public places. It is the only country that has not regularly updated its tobacco control policy and strategy, according to the study.

While it falls in the middle of the pack for taxation of tobacco products, Myanmar stands alone as the only country in the region that does not spend any public money on tobacco control, according to the study. And, despite the taxation, cigarettes are still fairly cheap: K2000 for a pack of Regular Marl¬boros and K800 for a pack of Red Ruby, the most popular brand in the country. Red Ruby’s are the cheapest cigarettes in the region.

The country is also middling in its ability to provide education or cessation programs.

According to the report, the government does not allow tobacco industry officials to sit on government committees or advisory groups that are deciding health policy.

However, the government does give preferential treatment to the tobacco industry, according to the report.

Like many of the other countries in the region, regulation of tobacco advertising and sponsorship goes unenforced in many mediums. Tobacco ads are banned in television, movies, print media, and billboards but there is no enforcement of tobacco advertising bans on the internet.

Regulations on the packaging of tobacco products, on the other hand, are fairly strong when compared with other countries in the region. A majority of the packaging is dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of using tobacco.

In February, the government announced that new regulations would go into effect on September 1, requiring that health warnings and graphic photos illustrating the dangers of tobacco use must appear on all brands of cigarette and other tobacco products manufactured in Myanmar.

However, the tobacco companies asked for a six-month reprieve. The Department of Public Health told The Myanmar Times that following appeals from the companies – which cited a lack of awareness among retailers that they could face punishment if they sell incorrectly packaged products – the rules would not go into effect until February 2017.

Once the new law is in full effect, anyone involved in the production, distribution or sale of tobacco products that do not contain a graphic warning label could be subject to a fine of between K10,000 (US$7.95) and K30,000 for a first offence.

According to a 2014 survey, the rate of tobacco use in Myanmar is 26.1 percent of the population, including 43.8pc of men and 8.4pc of women.


Singapore leads the way in a 10-country race in the ASEAN to protect public health from the harms of tobacco use according to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Scorecard launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

In a region where nearly half of all adult men smoke and where 10% (125 million) of the world’s smokers live, it is indeed a race to reverse the smoking epidemic and its devastating impacts that claims about 500,000 deaths every year.

“The scorecard acknowledges achievements and progressive efforts of ASEAN governments while also identifying implementation gaps that need further action. It also encourages comparisons between countries to further motivate the strengthening of FCTC implementation. Overall, there is significant room for further progress,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA FCTC Program Director.

Over-all, Singapore scored the highest (80.5%), followed by Brunei (71.2%) and Thailand (67.1%). Two key areas for improvement are in policies on tobacco taxation and protecting health policies from tobacco industry interference.

While raising tobacco taxes is recognized as among the most effective means of reducing consumption, this measure is the least well implemented among ASEAN countries. The region’s most expensive cigarettes are found in Brunei and Singapore, but cigarettes are still generally very affordable in all countries.

Most countries are experiencing tobacco industry interference and do not have a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct to address this problem. Only Singapore has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that is enforced by the whole government, while the Philippines has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that applies to the whole government but needs improved enforcement.

Enforcement of smoke-free policies needs to be strengthened further to achieve the full health benefits of such policies. All countries restrict or ban smoking in many settings, but only Brunei enforces a smoking ban in all indoor workplaces, indoor public places, and public transport, as well as some outdoor public places.

While standardized packaging of tobacco or ‘plain packaging’ is widely regarded as the best way to package tobacco, no ASEAN country has yet implemented this measure.

All countries, however, require pictorial health warnings on packages, although some require them only for cigarettes and not for other (e.g. smokeless) tobacco products.

Thailand leads with the largest pictorial health warnings (85% front and back).

All ASEAN countries except Indonesia, a non-party to the FCTC, enforce a complete ban on tobacco advertising in print media, TV, radio, and cinema. Regrettably, only half of the ASEAN countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) enforce a ban on tobacco advertising at points of sale (POS).

The scorecard is available at

The Tobacco Control Atlas: ASEAN Region

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Heat Increased on Cigarette Companies

After a sub-decree in July warning all companies producing, distributing and selling cigarettes to comply with requirements to display graphic anti-smoking images on all packets sold in the Kingdom and cease promotion of their products, it appears many have ignored the directive.

According to a warning letter from the Ministry of Health (MoH) sent this month, those found in violation of the sub-decree will face legal action.

“Tobacco companies continue to violate the law such as: ladies advertising tobacco in restaurants; display of branded parasols; in-pack competitions including the rewarding of cash to smokers, free cigarettes, lucky draws [for gifts] besides tobacco products; displaying tobacco products on the sides of vehicles; and the display of tobacco packets violating the measurement requirements concerning the public display of tobacco,” secretary of state Ung Phinrun says in the letter.

“Some tobacco companies have never printed the warning stickers to stick on the tobacco packets,” he added, without naming any companies the ministry had found in breach of the sub-decree.

The July sub-decree followed pan-Asean efforts to reduce smoking in the region and increase education about its harmful effects. All 10 countries have now created requirements to display images of health conditions directly linked to smoking.

Cambodia has two images that companies must choose from, a lung cancer patient or a baby harmed by second-hand smoke.

At the time, the Ministry of Health said it would fine manufacturers and importers $1,000 and wholesalers about $500 if they were found to be violating the sub-decree. The ministry has not announced if any fines have been issued.

Mom Kong, executive director of the Cambodia Movement for Health, said there is nothing new about these regulations for the multinational tobacco companies operating in Cambodia, as many countries now have such packaging requirements.

“These tobacco companies are multinational companies, meaning that they sell their products in different countries where such images are enforced following the implementation of such regulations such as in Singapore and Thailand. Why did they not follow the regulations here? You need to ask them yourself,” he said.

According to the July sub-decree, the tobacco companies are required to put the pictorial warning on 55 percent of each package and ban all kinds of advertisement including the use of young women to promote cigarettes in public as well as across all media.

This was to try and reduce the number of smokers in the country, said Mr. Kong, with the packet warnings having two clear benefits in this.

“First, it will help the smoker to decide for themselves whether they want to risk developing the disease as stated on the cigarette packet if they continue to smoke. Second, it will prevent the young generation from starting to smoke as the images are very clear,” he said.

Guillanme Dubois, the marketing manager of Huotraco International Limited (HIL), which distributes the Fine, Davidoff and Royale cigarette brands in Cambodia, said yesterday his company had followed all the government’s requirements and were almost completely in compliance.

“HIL has taken necessary measures to make the company’s products available in the market as instructed by MoH to all the tobacco industry in June,” he wrote by email.

“As of today, Huotraco’s products more than 98 percent are carrying printed PHW [public health warnings] in the market to guarantee our trade partners that they do not risk any penalty.”

Representatives of the British American Tobacco company distributing brands 555, Alain Delon, Kent, ARA and National, declined to comment.

In July they publicly left the Association of the Tobacco Industry of Cambodia trade organization after accusing it of not ensuring that all companies followed the change in packaging requirements.

Monitoring tobacco packaging and labelling in South-East Asia

A new index is helping governments in South-East Asia strengthen implementation of tobacco packaging and labelling in their countries.

Key findings from the index:

  • All 10 ASEAN countries apply pictorial health warnings (PHWs).
  • Thailand leads with the largest PHWs.
  • Legislated health warnings are applied to all forms of tobacco packaging among the ASEAN countries.
  • All ASEAN countries ban adhesive labels, stickers, cases, covers, sleeves, wrapping and promotional inserts and onserts on tobacco products that can obscure, obliterate or undermine health warnings.
  • Seven countries gave less than 10 months to the tobacco industry to comply with pictorial warnings.
  • Enforcement authorities in seven ASEAN countries possess sufficient powers to order violators to recall non-compliant tobacco products.
  • All ASEAN countries indicated that their health warning law or regulation needed to be reviewed and updated periodically.


The World Health Organization ( WHO ) is calling on countries to halt a tobacco epidemic by adopting plain packaging.

Tobacco use has continues to be a major public health issue across the WHO South-East Asia region, in which nearly 246 million people in 11 countries of the region continue to smoke tobacco and close to 290 million use it in smokeless forms, data shows.

Tobacco has caused the deaths of 1.3 million people across the region every year, or equivalent to 150 fatalities per hour.

“The message isn’t getting through: Tobacco kills. A good way to amplify it and disrupt the psychology of tobacco consumption is making the plain packaging of tobacco products, also known as standardized packaging, mandatory,” WHO South-East Asia regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said in her remarks during the celebration of World No Tobacco Day on Monday.

The WHO says the aesthetic impact of plain packaging is significant as studies show that it has a tangible effect on the desirability of tobacco products.

Plain packaging, it explains, means branding and promotional information is removed from tobacco packaging and replaced by graphic-health warnings, dull color combinations, a brand name and a product or manufacturer’s name in standardized font.

Tobacco companies are increasingly relying on market presence in developing economies, including those of the South-East Asia region as smoking levels decline in high-income countries, the WHO says.

“This presence must be resisted. Tobacco’s impact goes beyond public health, stymieing the growth prospects of developing economies and burdening taxpayers and health systems whose finite resources could be better used elsewhere,” said Singh.

She said 11 member countries of the WHO South-East Asia region, including parties to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, had developed and implemented tobacco control legislation. However, children, youth and adults continued to be subjected to pro-tobacco messages from the media and also encounter product advertising at outlets where tobacco was sold, she added.

“Commitment to stop the tobacco epidemic must be renewed,” said Singh.

The 7th Session of the Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention is set to be held in India in November this year.

“[…] It provides an opportunity to emphasize the importance of plain packaging and open discussions on its uptake in the region. Plain packaging is one of the easiest ways to help our friends and family live longer and healthier lives and is an initiative that will only gain momentum,” said Singh. ( ebf )

Q & A on the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC)

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Health Warnings in ASEAN

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The Resource Manual by ITIC is a tool for promoting vested interests rather than designed to help governments

The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEACTA) warns legislators and finance ministries against replying on this Manual which is being widely promoted by ITIC to ASEAN governments.

An academic review of the Manual’s section on tobacco taxation has revealed contradictions and inconsistencies when compared against international best practices and recommendations in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the WHO – Article 6 guidelines on tobacco tax and price measures, which 180 governments worldwide have committed to implement.

Professor Hans Ross from the University of Cape Town, who reviewed the Manual said; “On the surface, the Manual and the WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines seem to be aligned on some issues. However, the main principles and views that the Manual promotes often contradict its analysis and recommendations.

It also runs contrary to international best practices on tobacco taxation outlined in the Article 6 guidelines of the WHO-FCTC.

Among the main faults of the Manual are the following;

The Manual fails to acknowledge the evidence and recommendations of the WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines on Price and Tax Measures to reduce the demand for tobacco that states Parties unanimously adopted in 2014.

The ITIC claims Indonesia has the lowest penetration of illicit tobacco products in another document, yet this Manual claims Indonesia is an example of a country with the highest taxes in terms of affordability, which according to the Manual, drives illicit trade in Indonesia.

The Manual warns against substantial tobacco tax increases, even if some countries in the ASEAN region and many others globally have successfully increased tax to reduce tobacco use while also boosting their tax revenues.

The affordability of cigarettes is driven not only by tobacco taxes, but also by the industry-set prices which the Manual conveniently does not address.

The Manual’s very strong opposition to tobacco tax earmarking sharply contrasts with the recommendations in WHO-FCTC Article 6 guidelines.

The Manual falsely claims that the tobacco industry’s system supposedly designed to deal with illicit trade is compliant with the WHO-FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

Professor Ross added; “Its estimates of illicit trade and the associated revenue losses are based on another ITIC report funded by the tobacco industry that has been discredited due to its methodological weakness, the use of unreliable data, biased conclusions, and abundance of mistakes and errors.”

“Given the vested interests of the transnational tobacco companies that fund ITIC and provided it with data, it is obvious that the manual cannot be trusted”, Ms. Sophapan Ratnachena, the Tobacco Program Manager of SEACTA.

She added; “ A tobacco tax roadmap developed in collaboration with the tobacco industry is a dangerous proposition for both tax revenue and public health. It is important that governments protect their public health policies, including tobacco taxation, from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”