By Jintana Panyaarvudh
A NETWORK OF e-cigarette users and importers have suggested that lifting the ban on smoke-free products and issuing appropriate regulations would be a more-effective measure to discourage people from smoking rather than selling cigarettes in plain packages.
The Public Health Ministry is in the process of announcing a new regulation requiring cigarettes to be sold only in plain packages, with 10 new pictures and warning messages designed by the ministry. The new regulation will come into force in 270 days after being published in the Royal Gazette.
Citing research that plain packaging helps reduce the craving for cigarettes, this new regulation will make Thailand the first country in Asia and 11th in the world to adopt “negative” packaging to discourage smoking, officials said earlier.
However, Maris Karanyawat, representative of the End Cigarette Smoke Thailand group [ECST], said plain packaging will do little to cut down on cigarette consumption, citing the number of smokers staying at 11 million over the past decade in Thailand despite the inclusion of warning pictures on packets since 2005.
“Thai laws [related to smoking] include severe punishment, but whether they can be really or seriously enforced is the problem,” he added.
ECST had earlier submitted 40,000 signatures in a campaign for legalising e-cigarette and suggesting that it be turned into a “controlled” rather than “banned” substance.
The Commerce Ministry has banned production, import, sale and consequently possession of e-cigarettes since 2014.
Maris met with concerned agencies late last month about lifting the ban, but came away without a resolution. However, the Commerce Ministry did say it will set up a panel to study the proposal’s feasibility, he said.
Meanwhile, Gerald Margolis, managing director of Philip Morris (Thailand), said revoking the ban on smoke-free products and appropriately regulating cigarettes will achieve more than selling them in plain packaging. He added that his company was not opposed to plain packaging, but was more focused on efforts to secure appropriate regulations for products that have been scientifically substantiated as being less harmful.
He said Philip Morris International was working to create a smoke-free future, and that the priority of the company was to provide less harmful alternatives to adult smokers who will otherwise continue to smoke.
“Today’s issue is not about packaging, it is about the cigarettes inside that really cause harm when people light and smoke them,” he said
He cited statistics showing that in countries where smoke-free products are prohibited, such as Australia and Singapore, smoking rates have not changed significantly over the last several years despite increasingly aggressive regulatory and fiscal efforts.
By contrast, in countries where smoke-free alternatives are allowed, such as the UK, Europe Union, Sweden and Japan, smoking rates have dropped to historic lows, he added.
Margolis said regulatory measures for cigarettes should be complemented by policies that allow and encourage smokers to switch to better, smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes, he said.
Separately, the authorities will appeal against a ruling issued by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against Thailand’s regulations on cigarette imports, Chaiyuth Khamkun, spokesman of the Customs Department, said.
The WTO dispute panel released a report two weeks ago, saying that Thailand had failed to implement the recommendations and rulings of the dispute settlement body to bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the customs valuation agreement and the general agreement on tariffs and trade.
The issue concerns the valuation of cigarettes imported by Philip Morris (Thailand) from Philip Morris subsidiaries in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Philip Morris (Philippines) claims Thai tariff and customs measures for imported cigarettes were unfair. The dispute panel ruled in favour of Philip Morris (Philippines) in late 2010, saying Thailand’s taxation on Philippines’ tobacco exports was contrary to multilateral trading rules.