For teenagers such as 14-year-old Much Path, the new health warning on cigarette packages means little.
“I’ve been smoking since I was 10,” said Much Path, picking up a cigarette packet recently at a Phnom Penh coffee shop to show his friend the warning sticker. “It can remind me I shouldn’t smoke too much because smoking is bad for my health. But I’m addicted…and I’m still smoking because the regulation doesn’t say smokers will be punished.”
Out of 12 cigarette companies in Cambodia, 11 have complied with the Commerce Ministry’s new regulation requiring them to buy health warning stickers to put on cigarette packages, according to an official from the Ministry. The order, issued Oct 8, went into effect Jan 1.
Although almost all of the companies bought stickers, many packages are sold without them. And Much Path’s comments indicate that the warning signs hardly catch every consumer’s attention. The Khmer-language sticker reads “Cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health.”
Yi Kim Seng, the Commerce Ministry’s trade department director, said that not all cigarette companies and vendors have made an effort to put stickers on packages because the regulation does not have any provisions for fines and punishment.
“It’s difficult for us to force them to respect the law 100 percent,” Yi Kim Seng said. “I believe the new regulation would be completely successful if local authorities, smokers and the Ministry of Health cooperated with us.”
The Commerce Ministry could confiscate cigarette packages which have no stickers, he said. If the same practice continues, the ministry could warn companies to stop importing, he added.
Others question whether the campaign can curb smoking.
“If the government wants to keep people from smoking, why do they still allow cigarette companies to invest in Cambodia?” asked So Vannak, a 43-year-old smoker. “The only way to stop people from smoking is to stop importing cigarettes and stop producing cigarettes.”