No smoke without IRE

Tobacco retailers fear tough new regulations will impinge on people's freedoms.

Forty-eight -year-old Wanchai Kusomboompol sells cigarettes at his mom-and-pop shop in Bangkok's Sam Yan area mostly to casual workers who buy fewer than 10 cigarettes per day on average.

About 480,000 retailers fear new tobacco regulations will cause them a burden. ‘Sales will be definitely lower but there will be an increase in illegal cigarettes,’ says Mr Wanchai.

"Some people, especially those who earn less money, do not buy cigarettes in packs. Some smoke only three per day, and therefore it just makes more sense for them to buy separate ones," he said.

All that will change next year, once new measures by the Ministry of Public Health are put in place. The measures will also prevent shops like Mr Wanchai's from selling cigarettes near educational institutions.

Provisions will also open the door to plain packaging, removing all forms of branding _ trademarks, logos, colours and graphics _ except for the brand name written in a standardised font on the package.

Mr Wanchai is among the 480,000 registered retailers nationwide who say the ministry's new tobacco regulations will cause them a burden.

"Sales will be definitely lower but there will be an increase in illegal cigarettes," he said.

The Thai Tobacco Trade Association (TTTA), which has about 1,300 retailers, wholesalers and distributors across the country, has called on the ministry to abandon the plan.

"We are not against health concerns, but the law should not increase the burden on retailers as selling cigarettes is not against the law," said TTTA executive director Varaporn Namatra."The law should not limit people's rights and freedoms."

The provisions under the proposed Tobacco Consumption Control Act (TCCA) will require retailers to submit costly annual reports, restrict the age of sales persons, participate in anti-smoking campaigns and restrict the display of prices.

The TCCA will also prohibit major retailers from partnering government agencies to conduct charitable programmes, such as providing disaster relief support in response to flooding, Mrs Varaporn said.

"Moreover, the draft is too broad, ambiguous and gives the Public Health Ministry too much authority to issue further regulations without public consultation or review by parliament," she said.

According to a new poll conducted by Ipsos Thailand on behalf of TTTA on 1,000 retailers, 78% of retailers believe the new regulations will negatively affect their businesses.

Instead of introducing new regulations, 72% believe more education and 50% believe better enforcement of current laws would be more effective in reducing smoking rates.

"At a time when retailers expect economic conditions to worsen next year, the government could be wrong to experiment with costly tobacco regulations that will hurt retailers but do very little _ if nothing at all _ to reduce smoking levels," said Mrs Varaporn.

The government should instead focus on measures that are proven to reduce smoking levels, such as better education and existing laws of enforcement, she added.

The TTTA submitted a letter to the Public Health Ministry explaining its concerns two weeks ago.

The new provisions have undergone four public hearings and are open to the public for comments. The process should be finished next month. Then the provisions will be submitted to the health minister and the cabinet.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter