Public Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri said the government will amend the 1992 Tobacco Control Act and the 1992 Non-smokers’ Health Protection Act in a bid to catch up with modern forms of tobacco trade, marketing and advertising, such as online commercials and public events which are sponsored by multinational tobacco companies.
Mr Wittaya was speaking on the sidelines of a two-day conference on tobacco and public health which concluded yesterday.
The move was part of Thailand’s effort to comply with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which Thailand is a party.
Adopted by 192 member countries, the FCTC was developed in response to a big rise in smoking-related illnesses.
An estimated 10.9 million Thais smoke, says the Public Health Ministry. The government is most concerned about smokers aged 15 to 18 years.
About 140,000 smokers are believed to have started the habit between 2007 and 2009.
The number of teenage smokers increased significantly after Thailand adopted the Asean free trade policy which allowed tobacco products to be imported tax-free, said Siriwan Tippayarangsrit, director of Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Centre.
Prakit Vathesatogkit, secretary-general of the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation, said the national health bill caused by smoking continues to rise.
Of the 415,900 Thais who died in 2009, 48,244 were killed by smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, esophageal cancer, other related cancers, emphysema and strokes. The number did not include those who died due to the effects of second-hand smoke, as this cannot be properly verified, said Mr Prakit.
“Every one in 8.6 Thais died [in 2009] of a smoking-related cause,” he said.
“We have to deal with the tobacco industry, as this can’t go on.”
Since adopting the FCTC in May 2003, Thailand has implemented many anti-smoking policies, such as picture warnings on cigarette packets, a ban on tobacco advertising or sponsorship of events by tobacco companies, and forbidding smoking in enclosed public areas, said Hatai Chitanondh, president of the Thailand Health Promotion Institute of the National Health Foundation.
However, there is strong opposition to the FCTC from the transnational tobacco industry.
As a result, governments in developing countries were often forced to be less stringent with their tobacco control policies, said Mr Hathai.
Public Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri said the proposed law changes would cover a ban on tobacco trade, promotion and sponsorship on the internet, where tobacco advertising was flourishing.