Ministry of Health Pushes Directive to Ban Smoking in Public

The government on Tuesday issued a new, non-binding circular on the need to ban smoking in public and the work place.

“Workplace managers and people in charge of public places need to educate people not to smoke and put up warnings against smoking,” the circular reads. “If people do not obey, the manager can ask smokers to go outside.”

About 90 percent of Cambodians are exposed to smoke at restaurants and nearly 50 percent in the workplace, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said at a workshop to promote the circular.

“I hope all ministries and institutions will disseminate this circular to all local authorities and to restaurants, food shops, hotels and transport companies so that we can join together to implement this advice and ensure its success,” he said, adding that Cambodians spend about $100 million on cigarettes a year.

Though the circular is only advisory and Cambodia has yet to pass any law that would enforce the anti-smoking regulations, it is a step toward protecting the public from exposure to dangerous tobacco smoke, said Pieter van Maaren, World Health Organization country director.

“In Cambodia, every day close to 30 people die from tobacco-related diseases, many of whom are still in their productive years. That amounts to 10,000 Cambodians [every year] losing their life prematurely to an epidemic that is entirely preventable,” Mr. van Maaren said.

In May, the WHO honored Phnom Penh with an award for its contribution toward controlling tobacco use, primarily for the successful implementation of a 2011 sub-decree banning tobacco advertising in the city.

And in September, Yel Daravuth, national professional for the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, welcomed a government sub-decree to increase the price of a pack of cigarettes by 6 percent—which has yet to be put into effect.

However, Mr. van Maaren said that Cambodia should look to other the countries within Asean— Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—where guidelines provided by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have been successfully followed, including legislature banning public smoking and effective enforcement policies.

“The experience of these countries needs to be emulated as they demonstrate what works,” he said, adding that the 2011 National Adult Tobacco Survey in Cambodia, carried out by the Ministry of Planning’s National Institute of Statistics, revealed that 80 percent of Cambodians would support a government ban on smoking in all public and work places.

A new report on smoking last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association warned that unless the government implemented anti-smoking legislation it could expect a “tsunami” of tobacco-related deaths in the coming years.

Tobacco use currently accounts for 7 percent of all premature mortality in Cambodia, and over the next 30 to 50 years 1.2 million Cambodians are expected to die from smoking, according to the report.

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