By NOPHAKHUN LIMSAMARNPHUN
OVER the past 14 years, Thai Health Promotion Foundation has proved its mettle in dealing with powerful Thai and multinational tobacco giants, as well as alcoholic beverage manufacturers.
Year after year, their multi-billion-baht interests in the lucrative Thai market have been more or less curbed by the well-intentioned efforts of several pro-health public campaigns and strategies implemented by ThaiHealth.
That’s the key reason for its existence. Yet, allegations on the misuse of public funds to the tune of billions of baht are no less significant.
Like all other public money, the use of 2 per cent of the so-called “sin tax” levied over an above the cigarette and alcoholic beverage taxes has to be transparent and accounted for.
Over the past decade or so, ThaiHealth was given some Bt30 billion in combined tax revenue from this special levy, with a Bt4-billion provision for 2014 compared to Bt3.811 billion and Bt3.561 in 2013 and 2012, respectively.
One criticism is that some of the money has been allocated to projects not directly related to ThaiHealth’s objectives, such as those related to mass media and its practitioners.
Then there were allegations of conflict of interest involving recipients of funds who are either closely allied or associated with previous and current senior officials and policymakers at ThaiHealth.
The authorities are now investigating these allegations and their findings will be made public soon.
Meanwhile, ThaiHealth manager Krisada Reung-areerat has tendered his resignation in the wake of these allegations so auditors and investigators can proceed with their probe.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, ThaiHealth’s work in fighting the powerful tobacco and alcoholic beverage giants must to remain intact – as society will lose substantially without its work.
In fact, ThaiHealth’s performance over the years has proved to be innovative and relatively effective in countering negative health and social consequences of tobacco products and alcohol in the market economy, where profit maximisation via advertising, sales promotion and other tactics is key.
Compared to similar outfits in other Asean countries, ThaiHealth is undoubtedly among the leading anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol platforms in this part of the world.
The pro-health policy objective is not very easy to achieve when society has to deal with the powerful lobby of cigarette and alcoholic beverage companies.
In Thailand’s case, the state-owned Thailand Tobacco Monopoly is a major source of tax revenue for the government. In addition, there are several Western tobacco giants holding a significant market share in the country.
While the effectiveness of its work in cutting down the number of new smokers may be debatable, it is obvious that Thailand has some of the best pro-health, anti-smoke laws in the world.
These rules and regulations would not be practical if there were no effective strategies and public campaigns to educate the people.
The same argument is valid for anti-alcohol strategies and public campaigns that have helped boost public health and reduce road and other accidents caused by intoxication.
Notable examples are the new rules and regulations governing the sale of alcoholic beverages in retail outlets, as well those governing the consumption of such beverages.
Again, big businesses are behind the liquor and beer industry involving both Thai billionaire families and multinational players.
In this context, our society needs an equally powerful outfit to counter business interests – or consumers will not be served appropriately.