Nearly two weeks after the city’s self-imposed deadline to start removing print tobacco advertisements from public places, not a sign nor billboard has been removed—and city officials say they have no plans to start taking them down.
Last month, the Ministry of Health asked the city to remove print tobacco ads to comply with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. At the time, municipal advertisement office director On Neang said the city would start removing the signs by April 1.
But Thursday, On Neang said the city has no plans to remove the ads. The British American Tobacco Company removed its advertisements for London and 555 cigarettes from the main boulevards in March—but only because the company’s two-month contract with the city had expired.
In an April 2 letter to the ministries of interior and information, Health Minister Hong Sun Huot asked the ministries to ban tobacco ads in the city and the provinces, citing the ads’ “damage” to the country’s image and public health.
Sak Setha, director general of the Interior Ministry’s General Department, said he had not received the letter, but scoffed at the allegations. “There are a lot of tobacco advertisements in many countries,” Sak Setha said. “The tobacco advertisements don’t affect the country’s reputation.” The ministry has no plans to remove the signs, he said.
Information Minister Lu Laysreng said he will not pull tobacco ads from radio or television, claiming that the loss of such a major revenue source would force the stations to shut down, threatening the country’s “democratic process.”
“I know that tobacco causes health problems to people, but our ancestors have smoked a long time. The dangers from smoking are not as important as losing the democratic process,” he said Thursday.
Eliminating tobacco ads is essential to reducing smoking, said Yel Daravuth, health and tobacco program manager for the local anti-tobacco NGO, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, on Sunday.