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Thailand faces tough fight on plain packaging

Little known among the public, Thailand is set to introduce standardised packs for tobacco products – internationally known as “plain packaging”.

Published last year, the draft Tobacco Consumption Control Act sponsored by the Public Health Ministry is now being considered by the Council of State. The new regulation would require larger warning labels on all cigarette packages that would minimise the size of trademarks. All branding – colours, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks – will be removed, with manufacturers permitted to print only the brand name in small size.

The law is being billed as the authorities’ latest ploy to curb smoking. According to the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, Thais puff through about 32 billion cigarettes a year, worth a total Bt40 billion. This is despite the latest excise tax hike, which cut down consumption by around 3 per cent.

If the bill is passed, Thailand would join developed countries like Australia, France and the United Kingdom in introducing plain packaging.

Australia led the way by passing its Tobacco Plain Packaging Act in 2012, since when all tobacco products have been sold in the same standard dark-brown packaging with matte finish. Authorities said the new rules would help reduce smoking rates and combat the ill-effects of tobacco.
France will be next, when it rolls out plain packs from January 1 next year, followed by the UK from May.

Meanwhile, some countries – developed and developing – are considering following suit, which should further dampen the mood of big tobacco companies like Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

Mulling the move are Ireland, New Zealand and Malaysia, whose Health Ministry director for disease control Chong Chee Keong has announced the plan but no date for implementation.

But it is developing countries that have to tread carefully here, since the law risks attracting lawsuits from tobacco companies while also boosting sales of contraband tobacco products.

Plain-packaging pioneer Australia was lauded by World Health Organisation regional director Shin Young-soo, whose beat covers 37 countries ranging from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China to Vietnam. It is estimated that two people die every minute from a tobacco-related disease in this region, which consumes one in three cigarettes sold across the world.

“The legislation sets a new global standard for the control of a product that accounts for nearly 6 million deaths each year,” Shin said, urging other countries to follow suit.

But the road so far has not been smooth. Australia has faced lawsuits and accusations from World Trade Organisation member countries Dominica, Cuba, Honduras and Indonesia of breaching internationally accepted trademarks and intellectual property. A case against Australia was filed with the WTO in 2013, but a ruling is not expected within this year, due to “complexities”.

Meanwhile, Philip Morris Asia launched a challenge in 2011, arguing that the ban on trademarks breached foreign investment provisions of Australia’s 1993 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Hong Kong. But the arbitral tribunal in December 2015 declined jurisdiction to hear the case.

The Thai authorities must be closely following the case, since the Kingdom will definitely face the same ordeal, which could take years to resolve.

Indeed, Thailand is already facing headwinds.

During the WTO’s Trade Policy Review in November 2015, Thailand was asked several questions concerning its plan and how it would ensure that intellectual property (IP), especially trademarks, is protected.

Honduras was pretty active in the session, firing a barrage of questions at the Thai representative.

One inquiry was whether Thailand had scientific evidence that prohibiting the display of product names, marks and the name of the manufacturer or importer would have significant impact on tobacco consumption. Thailand admitted it did not.

Questioned on how it would uphold the value of IP with plain packaging, Thailand said the move was purely to reduce public health risks, and there was no restriction on the use of trademarks.

Asked how current trademark displays would be affected by the bill, Thailand said the new law had not yet been implemented.

Honduras also enquired whether Thailand’s Commerce and Finance ministries had taken any role in the decision. The Thai representative confirmed they were asked to comment when the draft law was tabled for Cabinet approval.

Thailand was also asked by China to explain how plain packaging protected trademarks and how the new act would ensure fair competition for the sale of tobacco products. Again, the response was that the legislation had not yet come into force and the objective was to reduce health risks – a legitimate public policy objective.

Meanwhile the United States and the European Union expressed concern that Thailand might extend the legislation to cover alcohol products. Thailand responded with neither a Yes or a No, merely saying that if the legislation is enforced, it would apply to both domestic and foreign products on a non-discriminatory basis.

The fight will be a long one, with all stakeholders desperate to maintain their status in a huge global industry worth more than $600 billion.

Assessing cost of illness related to tobacco

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Thailand to mark World No Tobacco Day on May 31

BANGKOK, 28 May 2016 (NNT) – World No Tobacco Day which falls on May 31st will be celebrated in Thailand as the Ministry of Public Health is preparing for the upcoming event.

Dr. Amnuay Gajeena, the Director-General of the Disease Control Department under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Health, said World No Tobacco Day celebrations will be held at Future Park Rangsit.

It’s hoped the event will raise awareness of the dangers of smoking, among Thai youth. According to a survey conducted in 2014, more than 353,000 youngsters aged between 15 and 18 smoke cigarettes, while the number of smokers between 19 and 24 years of age is as many as a million people. The shocking statistics also suggest that up to 70 percent of Thai youths smoke cigarettes, while Thailand sees around 200,000 – 250,000 new smokers take up the dangerous habit, on a yearly basis.

He said the ministry will push for a law that forbids manufacturers from putting logos on cigarette packs. The move is intended to discourage people from smoking.

Tobacco firm Philip Morris pleads not guilty to huge Thai tax dodge

Tobacco giant Philip Morris on Monday pleaded not guilty to dodging hundreds of millions of dollars in import tax to Thailand, a crime carrying a massive fine of up to US$2.27 billion.

Thai prosecutors accuse the local unit of the company, which owns the Marlboro and L&M brands, of evading some 20 billion baht (US$568 million) tax by under declaring import prices for cigarettes from the Philippines between 2003 and 2006.

In fact the duty-free end price of the cigarettes was much higher, according to prosecutors.

The company and seven Thai staff pleaded not guilty according to a written statement read out by a judge at a pretrial hearing at a Bangkok court on Monday.

If convicted prosecutors say the company could be fined up to four times of the sum of unpaid tax, while the employees face a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Four foreign executives have also been charged but have left the country in a case that dragged for a decade.

The company “vigorously” denies the “baseless” allegations, Alejandro Paschalides, managing director of Philip Morris Thailand, said after the hearing.

“We would like to encourage the Thai government to reconsider these meritless charges which will harm Thailand’s standing in the trade community and ultimately cause damage to the Thai economy and thus the Thai people,” he added in a statement.

The cigarette manufacturer insists that its import valuations complied with World Trade Organization agreements and had been cleared by local Thai customs officials.

We would like to encourage the Thai government to reconsider these meritless charges which will harm Thailand’s standing in the trade community

Alejandro Paschalides, managing director of Philip Morris Thailand

The legal issue has simmered since 2006 under the administration of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, shortly before his ousting in a military coup.

Thailand has since been hit by a decade of political instability with frequent government changes and a second coup in 2014.

In 2011, the attorney general at the time recommended against charging the tobacco giant, but the prosecution was restarted two years later.

The next hearing will be in October but the trial is likely to drag out for a number of years.
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Thai tobacco maker plans cheap cigarettes to offset new tax

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s state tobacco company said Saturday that it would launch a new, cheaper brand of cigarettes to keep smokers from rolling their own or buying illegally imported untaxed ones due to higher prices from a recently imposed tax hike.

The plan announced by the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly was denounced by anti-smoking activists who just weeks ago applauded the tax hike as a useful deterrent to smoking.

Daonoi Suttiniphapunt, director of Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, said the new brand, which will be slightly smaller in diameter than standard brands, will cost about 40 baht ($1.12) a pack and be launched on April 1. Other brands now range from about 48 to 130 baht ($1.34 to $3.64) a pack, she said.

“We are concerned that smokers will choose other alternatives that will severely harm their bodies, such as low-quality hand-rolling tobacco,” she said in a telephone interview. “They don’t use good quality material, they use no filters and there is a lot more residue. … They might put filters in, but in the process … there is usually more residue such as tar and nicotine than in legal cigarettes.”

According to Daonoi, there are 10.5 to 11 million smokers in Thailand.

“Those who have financial limitations, they will go to cheaper and low-quality products because they have no choice,” she said. “Quitting cigarettes is not easy.”

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, a program director for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, scoffed at the reasoning for producing cheaper cigarettes.

“All tobacco products are harmful to health regardless of their form or source, whether roll-your-own or manufactured cigarettes, whether legal or illicit,” he said in an email. “It is a farce to believe that tobacco companies are interested in protecting the health of smokers by promoting the access and use of cheap legal cigarettes.”

“Producing cheap cigarettes that are affordable to the poor and the young is a strategy common to all tobacco manufacturers, whether private or state-owned, to keep tobacco products affordable in order to keep poor people addicted, entice young people to start smoking, and ultimately to maintain industry profits,” he said.

His organization previously praised Thai authorities for increasing the price of domestically produced cigarettes this month by 5 to 10 baht (14 to 28 cents), saying it was a good example of trying to improve public health through tax policy.

TTM’s Daonoi said that after the recent tax hike of about 3 percent, tobacco sales fell and the market size shrank by more than 2 percent.

Immediate effect on tobacco excise tax hike

Thailand’s excise tax on tobacco products is raised from 87 per cent to 90 per cent with immediate effect.

The Cabinet approved the Finance Ministry’s move yesterday, aimed at raising tax revenue by about Bt15 billion per annum from Bt60 billion.

The tax hike is expected to raise retail cigarette prices by Bt5-Bt10 per pack.

The higher tax rate is also expected to reduce the number of smokers. According to Thai Health Promotion Foundation, there are about 12 million smokers in Thailand.

Impact of Graphic Pack Warnings on Adult Smokers’ Quitting Activities

Impact of Graphic Pack Warnings on Adult Smokers’ Quitting Activities: Findings from the ITC Southeast Asia Survey (2005–2014)


Malaysia introduced graphic health warning labels (GHWLs) on all tobacco packages in 2009.

We aimed to examine if implementing GHWLs led to stronger warning reactions (e.g., thinking about the health risks of smoking) and an increase in subsequent quitting activities; and to examine how reactions changed over time since the implementation of the GHWLs in Malaysia and Thailand where GHWL size increased from 50–55% in 2010.

Data came from six waves (2005–2014) of the International Tobacco Control Southeast Asia Survey.

Between 3,706 and 4,422 smokers were interviewed across these two countries at each survey wave.

Measures included salience of warnings, cognitive responses (i.e., thinking about the health risks and being more likely to quit smoking), forgoing cigarettes, and avoiding warnings.

The main outcome was subsequent quit attempts.

Following the implementation of GHWLs in Malaysia, reactions increased, in some cases to levels similar to the larger Thai warnings, but declined over time.

In Thailand, reactions increased following implementation, with no decline for several years, and no clear effect of the small increase in warning size. Reactions, mainly cognitive responses, were consistently predictive of quit attempts in Thailand, but this was only consistently so in Malaysia after the change to GHWLs.

In conclusion, GHWLs are responded to more frequently, and generate more quit attempts, but warning wear-out is not consistent in these two countries, perhaps due to differences in other tobacco control efforts.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris faces $2.2 billion Thai tax fine

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is facing an eye-watering $2.2 billion fine if found guilty of dodging tax on cigarette imports to Thailand, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The allegations are part of a long simmering tax dispute between the kingdom and the local unit of the tobacco company, which has also clashed with authorities over plans to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packets.

Thai prosecutors say Philip Morris, which owns the Marlboro and L&M brands, avoided around 20 billion baht ($551.27 million) tax by under declaring import prices for cigarettes from the Philippines between 2003 and 2006.

“Philip Morris as a corporation, as well as seven Thais, were indicted yesterday on custom tax evasion,” Somnuk Siengkong, a spokesman for Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General told reporters on Tuesday.

Chartpong Chirabandhu, deputy director general of the office’s special litigation department, said a court could impose a fine of up to 80 billion baht ($2.2 billion) if the company was found guilty.

Four foreign executives at the company have also been charged but are outside the country, prosecutors added.

Philip Morris Thailand Limited described the charges as “unjust” and vowed to fight them.

“The company intends to vigorously defend itself against these meritless charges and demonstrate that it is in full compliance with Thai law and international standards of customs valuation,” the company said in a statement.

The cigarette manufacturer added that their import valuations complied with World Trade Organization agreements and had been cleared by local Thai customs officials.

The investigation first surfaced in 2006 under the administration of Thaksin Shinawatra, shortly before his ousting in a military coup.

Thailand has since been hit by a decade of political instability with frequent government changes and a second coup in 2014.

In 2011, the attorney general at the time recommended against charging the tobacco giant, but the prosecution was restarted two years later.

That year Philip Morris was among leading cigarette firms to challenge in court plans by Thai health officials to increase health warnings on cigarettes.

The World Health Organization has accused the tobacco industry of deploying legions of lobbyists and lawyers to block packaging changes.

The tobacco lobby has also tried to block laws curbing advertising or raising taxes on cigarettes.

But more countries are adopting the approach with Thailand something of a regional leader on the issue in Southeast Asia.

Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand says more than 50,700 people die every year from smoking-related diseases with around 13 million of the country’s 67 million inhabitants addicted to cigarettes, 2.2 million of whom are minors.


ASH Thailand has alleged that Philip Morris International has written to the country’s Ministry of Public Health in an effort to prevent a new law on tobacco control being passed. The law was due to be fast-tracked earlier this year following delays the public health minister reportedly blamed on the agriculture and finance ministries. It has since been further delayed amidst accusations of tobacco industry lobbying.

If passed, the new law will increase the legal age for purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 20, tighten advertising and marketing bans—including on social media—and prohibit tobacco industry corporate social responsibility initiatives. According to ASH Thailand Secretary General Prakit Watheesathokkij, PMI’s letter argued that Thailand’s existing tobacco control laws are sufficient for educating people about the harms of smoking and preventing uptake.

The tobacco industry is up against a formidable and very creative foe in Thailand, which has a long history of strong tobacco control action, with both ASH Thailand and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation providing leadership in the Southeast Asian region. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation’s latest campaign uses dead smokers’ lungs to send a direct message to smokers—literally.

The Message From The Lungs opens with blank ink dispersing into water and a paint brush making a bold black stroke on canvas, with the words: “This is not ordinary ink. Because it was the life’s work of a man. A man who spent 50 years of his life to make every drop of it…by smoking every day”.

It goes on to explain how Thai Health teamed up with the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University to make ink extracted from the tar in lungs donated by smokers. The ink was then bottled and used to create artwork for ads. Samples were also distributed in public spaces as part of exhibitions to convince people to quit.

According to Thai Health, the campaign has resulted in a five-fold increase in quit smoking program participation.

Anti-Smoking Campaign Uses Ink Extracted From Smokers’ Lungs

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If TV ads, print ads, and morbid images of diseases caused by tobacco products were not enough to keep you away from cigarettes, then the Thai Health Promotion Foundation’s new anti-smoking campaign definitely will.

This Thai health organization collaborated with BBDO Proximity Thailand and the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok to bring their anti-smoking campaign to a whole new level by making ink from tar extracted from smokers’ donated lungs. The organization used this ink to create a large number of ads and even distributed samples of the ink around the country.

You may consider this campaign morbid or you may not, but one thing is certain: it proved to be very effective. After its launch, the campaign has gotten a lot of attention on various news segments and social media, which has helped spread the anti-smoking message. According to BBDO’s video (which you can check out below), five times more smokers applied for Thai Health Promotion Foundation’s program to quit smoking.

Apart from grossing out smokers, I am sure that this campaign will be just as effective at dissuading anyone who is considering taking up this nasty habit.