Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seven years on, government vows to enforce anti-smoking law

The government will soon begin enforcing a law enacted seven years ago that is designed to stop activities aimed at promoting smoking, a Ministry of Health official said.

A man smokes a cigarette in downtown Yangon. Photo: The Myanmar TimesA man smokes a cigarette in downtown Yangon. Photo: The Myanmar Times

The Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Products Law was introduced in 2006. It bans advertising of tobacco products, and tobacco companies sponsoring events and conducting promotions, such as free giveaways.

“We have the law but it has not come into force,” said Daw Nang Naing Naing Shein, a director of the ministry’s Tobacco-free Initiative. “Firstly we will finalise the rules of the law and will issue instructions to the relevant departments to cooperate with our anti-tobacco plan.”

She said one of the first tasks would be to crack down on direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products.

“In the future we will try to control tobacco advertising in cooperation with the head of township administrative offices. Municipal authorities used to take responsibility for enforcing the law,” said Daw Nang Naing Naing Shein.

First offences under the law are punishable with a fine ranging from K20,000 to K50,000, while subsequent convictions can result in a two-year jail term and a fine of up to K200,000.

Speaking at a World No Tobacco Day event in Nay Pyi Taw on May 31, Deputy Minister for Health Dr Win Myint conceded that “very few people seem to follow” the law.

“We want the public to know that it is illegal to distribute cigarettes free of charge, to give out goods with the label of a tobacco product or to sponsor or render service to an athletic event, funfair or exhibition,” he said.

Myanmar launched its tobacco-free program in 1980, after introducing its first anti-smoking legislation in 1959 with an act that banned smoking in theatres.

Ko Wa Lone, 26, said he took up smoking as a teenager. While he enjoys smoking in the teashop with his friends, he said he never accepts cigarettes given away in promotions because “they are low quality and really bad for health”.

He agreed that a crackdown was needed on promotions and advertising.

“They promote cigarettes through things like two-for-one offers,” he said. “And companies promote their products by giving away free packets during Thingan. I even saw one celebrity handing out cigarettes to the public on stage during this year’s water festival while it was being shown on television. In restaurants, sales girls are used to promote products.”

Other avenues of discouraging smoking are also failing to have an impact. In 2010 the government doubled the tax on cigarettes to 100 percent, while taxes on other tobacco products, including cheroots, were raised to 50pc in 2012. Additionally, shops are required to charge a 5pc sales tax.

But a spokesperson from the Internal Revenue Department said most cigarette producers do not pay the tax because of a lack of enforcement and knowledge.

“Most businesses in the sector have never been taxed although in practice we are meant to tax them. Now we are trying to persuade them to pay it.”

However, several cigarette producers are paying tax. The Internal Revenue Department’s Top 100 Taxpayers for the 2011-12 financial year lists Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar Pty Ltd as the second-highest commercial tax-paying company and 91st in terms of income tax. Myanmar Sampoerna Tobacco Co, Ltd stood at 14 in terms of commercial tax.