To­bacco law gets up­grade

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - Than­htoo@mm­times.com HTOO THANT

One decade after poorly en­forced leg­is­la­tion to con­trol to­bacco con­sump­tion went into ef­fect, min­istry of­fi­cials are call­ing for a re­vamp with stricter pun­ish­ments and higher fines.

ONE decade after a law to con­trol to­bacco use went into ef­fect, the govern­ment is fi­nally pledg­ing to give teeth to the leg­is­la­tion. Vi­o­la­tors could face in­creased fines and even prison time, health of­fi­cials warn.

Dr Thuzar Chit Tin, di­rec­tor of the Min­istry of Health and Sport, said the 2006 Con­trol of Smok­ing and Con­sump­tion of To­bacco Prod­ucts Law is in the process of be­ing up­dated, with fines raised to re­flect the cur­rent econ­omy and act as a big­ger dis­in­cen­tive.

Un­der the ex­ist­ing law, ad­ver­tis­ing to­bacco prod­ucts, dis­tribut­ing cigars, cig­a­rettes or other to­bacco prod­ucts free of charge, spon­sor­ing sports and other ex­hi­bi­tions, or pub­li­cis­ing to­bacco by any means is sub­ject to a fine rang­ing from K20,000 to K50,000 for the first of­fence, ris­ing to a max­i­mum of K200,000 or two years in prison for sub­se­quent of­fences. Penal­ties also ap­ply to any­one who tries to ob­struct or as­sault of­fi­cials try­ing to pre­vent smok­ing in a no-smok­ing zone.

“Amend­ments will be made to the law to up­grade the pun­ish­ments” and bring them into con­form­ity with cur­rent con­di­tions, said Dr Thuzar Chit Tin on Septem­ber 1.

Myan­mar launched a to­bacco-free pro­gram in 1980, after in­tro­duc­ing its first anti-smok­ing leg­is­la­tion in 1959 with an act that banned smok­ing in the­atres.

Though the con­sump­tion of cig­a­rettes and to­bacco prod­ucts de­creased in 2007 after the con­trol of smok­ing law came into ef­fect, us­age sub­se­quently in­creased, ap­par­ently in part be­cause of lax en­force­ment, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the ban on sell­ing cig­a­rettes within 100 feet (30.5 me­tres) of a school, or sell­ing sin­gle cig­a­rettes. To­bacco com­pa­nies were among the first to quickly en­ter the coun­try after the govern­ment be­gan re­lax­ing im­port re­stric­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 sur­vey, the rate of to­bacco use in Myan­mar is 26.1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing 43.8pc of men and 8.4pc of women. About 80pc of smok­ers use to­bacco ev­ery day. About 7pc of stu­dents smoke, and 17pc use cigars or other forms of to­bacco.

The rate of be­tel use is higher, with 43pc of the pop­u­la­tion con­sum­ing be­tel, in­clud­ing 62pc of men and 24.1pc of women.

One of the prob­lems in coun­ter­ing con­sump­tion, Dr Thuzar Chit Tin said, is that to­bacco, be­tel and pick­led tea leaves are con­sid­ered tra­di­tional leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, and their use seems to be ris­ing. “We need to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the dangers of smok­ing,” she said.

How­ever, she said, the to­bacco in­dus­try is very pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial com­pared to the re­sources avail­able to the govern­ment. “The to­bacco in­dus­try in­flu­ences pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the me­dia. They have the fi­nan­cial re­sources to en­sure that what the in­dus­try says gets bet­ter me­dia cov­er­age than the in­for­ma­tion we pro­vide.”

She added that the up­dated law could also ap­ply some of the tax de­rived from to­bacco prod­ucts to the health sec­tor and to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion drives in­tended to re­duce smok­ing.

In 2010 the govern­ment dou­bled the tax on cig­a­rettes to 100 per­cent, while taxes on other to­bacco prod­ucts, in­clud­ing che­roots, were raised to 50pc in 2012. Ad­di­tion­ally, shops are re­quired to charge a 5pc sales tax. But ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Depart­ment, most cig­a­rette pro­duc­ers do not pay the tax be­cause of a lack of en­force­ment.

But mea­sures to scale up the warn­ing la­bels on to­bacco prod­ucts have gained trac­tion. In 2014, the Myan­mar Cig­a­rette and To­bacco Prod­ucts Con­sump­tion Con­trol­ling Cen­tral Com­mit­tee added pic­ture and text health on pack­ag­ing and brand­ing to­bacco prod­ucts. In June, the Min­istry of Health an­nounced that warn­ing la­bels must ap­pear on all brands of to­bacco prod­ucts in Myan­mar from Septem­ber.

The min­istry re­leased a no­ti­fi­ca­tion in Fe­bru­ary call­ing for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 2006 law. But the six-month pe­riod that was to have elapsed be­fore en­force­ment be­gan has been ex­tended a fur­ther six months fol­low­ing ap­peals from the in­dus­try. The law is now ex­pected to come fully into force in March 2017.

– Trans­la­tion by Thiri Min Htun

Photo: Staff

A man lights up be­side a cig­a­rette ven­dor.

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