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August 10th, 2009:

Thailand: Street Wise: Smokers have reason to be worried sick

Achara Deboonme – The Nation

Since its establishment in 2001, the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation has done an extraordinary job of discouraging smoking in the Kingdom.

Warning labels featuring graphic images of the possible consequences of smoking have been placed on cigarette packages. Though Canada lays claim to being the first country in the world to adopt such mandatory warning images on cigarette packages, Thailand has not lagged on this front.

Malaysia only required the placement of graphic images on cigarette packs on January 1.

In Thailand, a variety of warnings with graphic, disturbing images of the results of tobacco-related illnesses (including a tracheotomy – a tube surgically placed in the throat to allow breathing – and a smoker’s rotting teeth) are placed prominently on cigarette packages.

A recent study showed that the warnings made Thai smokers think more often about the health risks of smoking, and about quitting smoking.

The Tobacco Consumption Control Law has been strengthened. Gone are the days when smokers could light up freely in bus stations, restaurants and entertainment venues.

So it’s not surprising to learn that, according to Mahidol University’s research centre, the number of smokers in Thailand fell from 11.7 million in 1991 to 9.54 million in 2006.

Many give the credit for these successes to Prakit Vathisathokit, secretary-general of the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation.

The bad news for smokers is that Prakit, who retired from the civil service years ago, is determined to be on the scene for a long time, despite his advancing years. Though smokers are annoyed by the growing number of strict controls on their habit, many more are planned, he said.

“The rules are strictly enforced in Bangkok, but many smokers in the provinces are not aware of them. I still have a lot to do,” he said.

And Prakit appears physically fit enough to continue with his plans. During an interview with Nation Group editors, Prakit said he keeps himself fit by walking.

“Now, I walk up the stairs every time to the meeting room, which is on the 34th floor,” he said, laughing. “It takes me 15 minutes to get there.”

Sad to say, Prakit will probably still be on the job long after some smokers have developed and succumbed to illnesses caused by their habit.