Health warnings about strokes, heart disease, tooth damage, lung cancer and emphysema have started to appear on cigarette packages in response to a government sub-decree that came into effect last month.
From July 20, cigarette manufacturers have been required to print health warnings covering at least 30 percent of cigarette packages, according to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in October.
“Local produced or imported cigarettes for distribution and sale in Cambodia shall [have] printed health warnings in Khmer language indicating harmfulness of tobacco,” the sub-decree said.
Businesses face written warnings, temporary closure, and eventual permanent closure if they do not comply, it said.
Dr Yel Daravuth, program officer for the Tobacco Free Initiative at the World Health Organization, said that WHO is working with the Health Ministry to ensure that manufacturers will face penalties if they do not provide health warnings.
“Manufacturers have been given nine months to print these messages. It is long enough,” Mr Daravuth said.
Measures to ensure tobacco products carry health warnings meet the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Cambodia became a party in 2005.
The Ministry of Health declined to comment yesterday.
Kun Lim, head of corporate affairs at the British American Tobacco Cambodia, said that the company’s cigarette brands- including ARA and 555 – have carried health warnings since July 20, though it will take about four to five months for old products to move out of circulation.
“We are showing our commitment to comply to local regulation and have done our best in showing leadership to implement this,” Mr Lim said, adding that all tobacco companies should implement the health warnings simultaneously to provide a level playing field for businesses.
Chhem Oun, 41, a vendor on Norodom Boulevard, said that on Monday the company distributed ARA brand cigarettes with the new health warnings and stuck an advertisement featuring them on his stall.
“When my customers see the health messages they are afraid of the effects of smoking…. But I am not concerned for business because it is good if people can stop smoking,” Mr Oun said.
Dr Pieter Van Maaren, WHO country representative, said that the labels would help raise awareness of the health risks related to smoking – a continuing problem in Cambodia, with female smokers on the rise.
“It is common wisdom that graphic warnings have more impact than written ones,” he said. “All the same, it’s a start and everything is better than no health warnings at all.”
Keo Krisna, Tobacco Or Health project manager at Adventist Development and Relief Agency, welcomed the implementation of health warnings on cigarette packets.
“It is a significant step to reduce the usage of tobacco, because the warnings can educate people about the diseases caused by smoking,” Mr Krisna said.
However, not all smokers believe the health messages will be enough for them to kick the habit.
Sok Ran, 29, who has smoked for five years, said he was surprised to see the health warning appear on cigarettes.
“I am afraid when I see the health warning. Yet I find it difficult to stop smoking, because I have done so for a long time,” Mr Ran said.
Hen Sidara, a 20-year-old student holding a cigarette during an interview yesterday, said that he was aware that smoking was bad for his health but had picked up the habit out of boredom.
“It is difficult for me to say if I can give up, but I will try. This warning reminds me to think of my health,” Mr Sidara said.
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)