More than 600 monks rallied at Wat Phnom Sunday to pray for a smoke-free world at a ceremony held to commemorate the upcoming World No Tobacco Day, which is to be held May 31.
Tobacco and tobacco-related illnesses kill more than 4 million people worldwide every year—more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to Greg Hallen, technical officer for tobacco control at the World Health Organization’s Phnom Penh office.
Cambodia is bound to see an increase of tobacco-related illness and death in the coming years, Hallen said. But that is not its only negative effect, he said. Cambodians spend more of their income on tobacco than anything else, which helps keep the country mired in poverty, Hallen said.
According to the World Bank, Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest nations with a per capita income of around $280. The 1999 National Social-Economic survey found 70 percent of Cambodia’s men are regular smokers.
Written signs at Sunday’s rally called for the banning of tobacco advertising and asked people not to donate cigarettes to monks.
A WHO statement said tens of thousands of Asian children take up smoking every day. This is partly caused by the fact that most Asian countries have only limited regulations on tobacco advertising.
Some of the ceremony’s attendees spoke of their struggles against tobacco addiction.
“I want to stop smoking, and I don’t carry any cigarettes with me,” Neum Hoeun, 47, said. “But seeing my friends smoking, I cannot stand it.”
Besides, tobacco has a luxurious air about it, Neum Hoeun said. And he remembers that during the Khmer Rouge regime, tobacco was hard to come by.
“I didn’t smoke. When I had tobacco, I bartered it for other things,” he said.
A man who gave his name only as Sem said he is trying to cut down on smoking. As it stands, he only smokes in the bathroom and “when I need smoke to drive the mosquitoes away,” he said.