The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP made a rare show of fraternity Wednesday morning in unanimously passing the country’s first tobacco control law—which bans sales to minors, smoking in public and most advertising—in a bid to combat related illnesses.
Passed with 89 votes at the National Assembly, the Law on Tobacco Product Control has been years in the making and imposes fines—and in some cases prison time—on violators.
More than 9,000 Cambodians die every year due to smoking-related illnesses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A 2014 study commissioned by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the U.S. found that more than 40 percent of Cambodian men were daily smokers, that the habit contributed to 7 percent of all premature deaths in the country and could kill 1.2 million people over the next 30 to 50 years if no additional measures were taken.
A sub-decree banned some forms of tobacco product advertising in 2011. But CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth, who heads the Assembly’s health commission, said after Wednesday’s legislative session that the new law would let the government mete out penalties.
“In some cases, punishment will be imposed if tobacco distributors know that the person they are selling tobacco to is under 18 years old,” she said.
The law states: “Any act of selling or distributing all types of tobacco products to persons aged under 18 years or to pregnant women whose pregnancy is obvious or is realized must be punished with six days to one month in prison and a fine of 100,000 riel [about $25] to 1 million riel [about $250].”
The law also bans almost all forms of tobacco product advertising and imposes a fine of up to $10,000 on violators. Tobacco product producers who refuse to reveal the chemical composition of their wares during inspections will be fined up to $5,000, double if they refuse a second time.
The law does not set any parameters for setting or adjusting the tax on tobacco products. During the hour-and-a-half discussion that preceded the vote, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said the law merely states that taxes will “be in line with the circumstances.”
CNRP lawmaker Khy Vandeth said the current tax on cigarettes, at 22.26 percent, was far too low and suggested raising it in stages up to 70 percent.
“If we can raise the tax rate to a high level, we can prevent [consumption] very much,” he said.
Yel Daravuth, technical officer for the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative in Cambodia, said he was happy to see the Assembly finally pass the law, which he had helped with.
He said it hit all the major points of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Cambodia has signed on to: advertising bans, warning labels on packaging, increased taxes, and smoke-free areas.
“These four areas, if you implement them, will encourage people not to smoke, and for smokers, it will encourage them to quit, so this is good,” Mr. Daravuth said.
“The next step is to work on enforcement,” he said, adding that the tobacco industry “always looks for a loophole” and that sub-decrees addressing enforcement and other details left out of the law were in the works.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that CNRP lawmaker Khy Vandeth suggested raising the tax on cigarettes in stages up to 80 percent. He suggested raising the tax in stages up to 70 percent.