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March 26th, 2014:

WSJ: E-Cigarettes, Shisha Go Up in Smoke in Cambodia

by Sun Narin and Chun Han Wong, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Cambodian authorities have banned imports and sales of shisha tobacco and electronic cigarettes, saying rising consumption of such products among youths poses health and social problems.

A Cambodian man smokes a cigarette near a traffic sign along a street in Phnom Penh on May 31. The country has banned the use of e-cigarettes and shishas to prevent health and social problems. (AFP/Getty/WSJ)

The ban—approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday—has already prompted an official crackdown in the tourist town of Siem Reap and alarmed business owners in other cities, where shisha lounges have proliferated in the past year.

Shisha, or flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe, and electronic cigarettes, which emit vapor containing nicotine, have become increasingly popular among young Cambodians, and could hurt their ability to work and study, Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs said in a statement.

The anti-drug agency doesn’t have precise data on the prevalence of e-cigarettes and shisha smoking, but Kao Boumony, deputy director of law enforcement at the agency, said he has seen anecdotal evidence pointing to high shisha consumption in the capital, Phnom Penh, as well as Siem Reap and the beach resort of Sihanoukville.

Officials are also concerned that shisha could become a gateway drug, particularly among youths who then go on to consume more addictive substances, Mr. Boumony said.

On Tuesday, police enforced the ban by raiding nightspots in Siem Reap, arresting 15 people and confiscating 55 shisha pipes, known as hookahs. The crackdown was meant to “maintain security” and “prevent ill effects on people’s health,” said city governor Khim Bunsong.

Phnom Penh authorities also plan to take action against shisha consumption in the capital, by potentially shutting down shisha lounges, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong.

A number of shisha lounges there have already closed their doors, as their owners seek clarity on the new regulations, according to local news reports.

Shisha smoking, whose roots stretch back to ancient Persia and India, has gained worldwide appeal as a social activity, particularly among young adults. Medical authorities, including the World Health Organization, say shisha smoking is as unhealthy as cigarette consumption, exposing users to higher risk of lung disease, cancer and other adverse health effects.

E-cigarettes too have proven controversial amid their rising popularity as a purported tool for helping smokers quit tobacco. The WHO, a United Nations agency, currently advises against the use of e-cigarettes, saying their safety and supposed benefits as a smoking alternative haven’t been scientifically proven.

27 Feb 2014

SCMP: Art Basel coming to Hong Kong in a cloud of cigar smoke

from Howard Winn’s Lai See column in the SCMP:

Cigars and high art don't mix. (SCMP)

Art Basel, the art fair jamboree par excellence, comes to Hong Kong in May. Last year’s event was fun and attracted all those art sophisticates like Roman Abramovich, Kate Moss and so on. But much as we enjoyed the show we were a little disturbed at its relationship with the cigar company Oettinger Davidoff Group, which is one of the fair’s principal sponsors along with UBS, AxaArt and Netjets.

When governments around the world are trying to stop people from smoking because one out of every two people that smokes ultimately dies from a smoking related disease, it seems strange to say the least that Art Basel thinks it is okay to take tobacco money. Tobacco sponsorship is pretty much banned in Hong Kong. So it is something of a surprise to see it surface at Art Basel.

Davidoff signed an agreement with Art Basel in 2012. At the time Hans-Kristian Hoejsegaard, president and CEO of Oettinger Davidoff Group said: “Davidoff and Art Basel is a perfect fit.” The company also said then that its products are “deeply connected to the handicraft traditions involved in the rolling and blending of fine cigars as well as the art of marquetry”, portraying Davidoff as a kind of upmarket craft company.

Art Basel’s co-director Marc Spiegler went on to say: “We seek partners like Davidoff who are intensifying their engagement with the arts.”

When we asked Art Basel about its connection with tobacco money, Spiegler, via its public relations company, told Lai See: “Alongside its enduring support for Art Basel as an associate partner, Oettinger Davidoff has also developed the Davidoff Art Initiative, which is making a significant contribution to the arts by fostering cultural exchange between the art scenes in the Caribbean and in cultural capitals across the world. The two organisations both have roots in the Swiss town of Basel, and both are strongly committed to art and artists.”

We all know why Davidoff is “strongly committed to the arts”. It’s because it is one of the few areas where it can market itself. High art and fine cigars – they’re a natural fit? Wrong. While having an interest in art might be true, the main motivation is that art provides good “cover” that helps to make it look like a good citizen, tries to normalise cigar smoking “as a way of life”, smartens up Davidoff’s corporate image, enhances it products and corporate visibility, and of course helps it to sell more cigars.

Its association with Art Basel, despite what perhaps can be called the hype about art, is a commercial decision, and a marketing cost to promote its business. The fact remains that smoking kills and rather than helping Davidoff seduce more customers, Art Basel should look for other sponsors.

20 Mar 2014

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