Published in the SCMP on Saturday, November 9, 2002
A tough new anti-smoking law came into effect yesterday in Thailand, making it illegal to light up in virtually every indoor public place including air-conditioned restaurants and shopping malls.
Business establishments that fail to control smoking by patrons will face fines of up to 20,000 baht (HK$3,600) and the smokers will be hit for 2,000 baht under regulations made public in August.
Pubs and other night entertainment places are exempt because they are not frequented by children.
Thailand has had a strong anti-smoking lobby and is one of the few Asian countries to make a serious effort to highlight the dangers of tobacco since the 1970s. Many public places were already smoke-free and the new law widens the scope by including restaurants and other areas.
But realising the difficulty of enforcing the ban uniformly, the Public Health Ministry has said that it would initially focus only on air-conditioned restaurants, sending out inspectors for surprise checks.
“Thailand’s tobacco control efforts are being hailed as among the most successful in Asia, with new regulations implemented every year. How effective these regulations are when put to the test remains to be seen,” the Bangkok Post said yesterday.
The Post noted that tobacco companies continued to promote their products indirectly through sponsorship of sport and entertainment.
According to the Thailand Tobacco Information Centre, 23.4 per cent of Thais, or about 12 million people, smoke.
Apart from anti-smoking laws, Thailand also is trying to prevent youngsters from taking up the habit. The Public Health Ministry says 95 per cent of smokers in Thailand start before they are 24.
The government recently announced plans to replace worded warnings of health hazards on cigarette packs with pictures depicting cancerous lungs and problems such as premature ageing, birth defects and impotence.
Among places made off limits to smokers under the new law are public buses, taxis, lifts, temples and churches, public toilets, libraries and air-conditioned establishments such as shopping malls and gyms.
In schools, museums, hospitals, banks, airports and indoor stadiums, smoking will be allowed only in restrooms and private offices.
Except for Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, Asian countries have some of the world’s weakest tobacco control laws, according to the World Health Organisation. It says smoking is the single biggest killer globally, accounting for one in three middle-age male deaths.