Graphic package warnings on six-month hiatus
In response to a request from tobacco companies, the Ministry of Health has aggreed to a six-month reprieve on regulations requiring tobacco products to come with graphic warnings.
AFTER lobbying from tobacco companies, a six-month reprieve has been granted on a regulation requiring cigarette packages to carry graphic health warnings, according to a directive from the Ministry of Health and Sport.
In February, the government announced that new regulations would go into effect on September 1, requiring that health warnings and graphic photos illustrating the dangers of tobacco use must appear on all brands of cigarette and other tobacco products manufactured in Myanmar.
But on September 28, Dr Mya Lay Nwee, deputy director of the Department of Public Health in Nay Pyi Taw, told The Myanmar Times that the rules would not go into effect until February 2017.
“Tobacco companies made a request to the ministry that the new laws not be applied to products which had reached the market before September 1. Therefore, the minister for health and sport has granted the tobacco companies an amnesty period of six months, during which they can retrieve products that do not contain the proper warning labels from the market,” said Dr Mya Lay Nwee.
“The [new] law will still apply to products manufactured after September 1 and anyone who breaks the law following the amnesty period will be punished in accordance with the legislation,” she added.
One concern that has been raised by the new tobacco packaging edict is that many retailers are unaware that they could face punishment if they sell incorrectly packaged products.
“We did not know about the new law,” said Daw San, a retailer at the corner of 39th Street and Bogyoke Aung San Road. “Tobacco companies have told us to sell our [improperly packaged] stock before the end of the six-month period and that they will then take back any unsold stock.”
Daw San’s experience suggests that the government’s new packaging regulations may achieve its desired outcome, lowering the smoking rate.
“The demand for brands with graphic stickers on them has decreased since they started labelling the packets in this way. Before, they were best sellers,” she said.
“Buyers said the [graphic warning] stickers were a disgrace and changed brands to packages which did not have them,” she added.
Of the nearly 50 brands of cigarettes on the market, only two – Red Ruby and Winston – have adopted the graphic warnings so far. None of the more than 100 brands of traditional cigarettes or other tobacco products has adopted the graphic warning labels at this point.
Once the new law is in full effect, anyone involved in the production, distribution or sale of tobacco products that do not contain a graphic warning label could be subject to a fine of between K10,000 (US$7.95) and K30,000 for a first offence.
Subsequent offences are to be punished with heavier fines and even possible imprisonment under the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law.
A cigarette vendor in Yangon holds up packages with pictoral warning labels in September 2015.