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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.

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