An opportunity lost

I'm going to be hard on Than Sein and the People's Health Foundation in this posting. It is the recipient of a grant from the NCD Alliance to *lead* a civil society response to NCDs in Myanmar.

There is nothing wrong with civil society advocating for smoke free spaces. Governments can declare spaces smoke free overnight and fund compliance officers through fines. Most commercial spaces will ban smoking as financial pressures mount as people will stop going to businesses that allow smoking.

My main criticism is that the People's Health Foundation completely neglects the vital intervention of increasing excise taxes on tobacco. This is an opportunity lost. Does it not know about this intervention or did it just forget about it?



Officials consider ways to halt rise in smoking, tobacco use
Myint Kay Thi
Myanmar Times
Monday, 05 June 2017

Although officials are trying to bring down tobacco use and decrease smoking in the country, it remains high, say experts.

Despite the awareness campaigns carried out, the number of smokers in the country is on the rise.

Dr Thein Sein, president of the People’s Health Foundation, said that the number of smokers started to increase in 2014.

“Today, young people and students are smoking. They can buy cigarettes in the market easily and cheaply”.

According to a 2014 survey of Myanmar, about 43.8 percent of men and 8.4pc of women are smokers, while 62.2pc of men and 16 pc of women are tobacco users.

“Most smokers know that smoking is harmful to their health, but they can’t help themselves, so awareness must be the focus on children in schools,” he said.

He said, “It is difficult to make smokers stop smoking immediately. People aren’t scared of the risks of tobacco or smoking. Therefore, it is best to educate the young, especially those under 12, on the prevention and dangers of smoking.

He added that they had increased awareness programs on tobacco usage in schools, in cooperation with the ministries of Health and Sports and Education.

Grocery store owner Daw Soe Soe said a cigarette costs K50 and most customers buy two to four cigarettes. “Some children come to buy cigarettes for their parents or relatives.”

The government issued a directive in February 2016 that all tobacco products carry pictures and text health warnings that cover more than 75pc of the space on the package to control the sale, production and advertising of tobacco products.

Dr Thein Sein said 70 products had complied with the directive. “Popular cigarette brands have pictorial warnings, but new brands and some cigarette companies don’t have warning labels,” he said.

The People’s Health Foundation plans to designate no smoking areas at public places, universities and schools, in cooperation with the Health and Sports Ministry and regional officials.

The foundation held a No Tobacco Day event with the theme “Tobacco – A Threat to Development,” on Saturday at Taw Win Garden Hotel in Yangon.

Dr Thein Sein said that a workshop to draw up long-term plans to designate no smoking areas in Yangon will be held at the end of this month by the foundation in cooperation with the Health and Sports Ministry, other organisations and Yangon regional officials.

“We want to designate no-smoking areas in medical universities in Yangon with the ministry’s help. We would also like to extend smoke-free zones in Yangon to schools, public parks and other universities,” he said Saturday.

U Naing Ngan Lin, the Yangon Region minister for Social Affairs, said at the event that the smoking rate is still high, especially among young people. “Cooperation is needed to control tobacco usage in the community and for people to people know about the risk of tobacco and smoking.”

Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions, as well as Shan and Kayin states have been designated as no-smoking areas since early this year, Dr Thein Sein said.

Workshops have been held with regional officials in Sagaing, Mandalay and Magwe on designating no-smoking areas, Dr Thein Sein said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are more than seven million deaths from tobacco use every year. The People’s Health Foundation is a non-profit, non-government organisation established in December 2012.


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