Anti-Tobacco Group Meets

The sign near Hun Sen Park shows a firm-jawed white man in a green shirt, holding a Davidoff cigarette, leering out from the billboard.

“The more you know…” the sign reads.

For many officials and ob­servers, the less Cambodia’s school­­­children see, the better, and they are taking aim at such billboards, and other tobacco marketing techniques they say target Cambodia’s young.

Many of these concerned government officials, NGO workers and advocates met Monday at the Ministry of Health to discuss ways to reduce tobacco use by young people.

“Freedom of speech should apply to individuals, not multinational companies who are selling a dangerous product,” WHO official Greg Hallen said.

Hallen and others at the meeting said foreign tobacco companies put their ads where young people, the most vulnerable to slick marketing, congregate—schools, fairs and night spots.

Worldwide, tobacco companies are under fire, and Cambodia should be no less vigilant, Ministry of Health Deputy Director of National Health Promotions Po Samnang said.

“It’s a big problem. The number of deaths from tobacco is much more than HIV, tuberculosis, and infant mortality rates,” Po Samnang said.

Last year, tobacco-related illnesses killed 3 million people worldwide, and authorities expect that number to climb to 10 million a year within the next two decades, Hallen said.

Poor countries like Cambodia contribute more than 70 percent of tobacco-related deaths, Hallen said.

Tobacco companies have countered that they advertise not to gain new smokers, only to get current smokers to switch to their brands.

One way to get young people to stop smoking is to raise taxes on tobacco to get it out of young people’s hands and offset the cost of tobacco-related health care, Hallen said. In Canada tobacco consumption went down 8 percent when the government raised the cost per pack by 10 percent, Hallen said.

Not all of the meeting’s attendees were in agreement, however. Argument broke out among members on whether or not tobacco companies should be invited to participate in future meetings.

Hallen said he was against it, but Ministry of Health Secretary of State Ung Phyrun said it was careless not to hear tobacco out.“We need to get their voice,” he said. “We cannot walk away from civil society.”

 

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