The percentage of smokers over the age of 15 has dropped from 19.5 percent in 2011 to 16.9 percent last year, according to the National Adult Tobacco Survey which was released yesterday by the National Institute of Statistics.
Taking population growth into account, this means that fewer than two million Cambodians smoked frequently in 2014. The survey was conducted based on the studies of 19 cities around the country.
“It showcases the effort of the Ministry of Health and relevant institutions and is especially important because Cambodia has a tobacco control law and…health warnings on cigarette packs. We hope and expect that the rate of smokers will decrease much more,” said Yel Daravuth, technical officer for the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative in Cambodia.
Hard to Quit
Second-hand smoke still remains high in public places, with most people coming in contact with it in restaurants, state buildings, and public places.
The study found that only four percent of current smokers were willing to give up smoking in the next 12 months. Low price and wide availability were cited as an encouragement for young people and poor citizens to buy cigarettes.
Thirty-four-year-old garment worker Narra Khun, who has been smoking for almost 10 years, told Khmer Times:
“I smoke every day. In one day, I smoke two to three packs and one pack costs me 1,800 riel. The price is affordable. When I smoke, my stress is reduced and I do not feel sleepy at night because I have to work extra hours.”
Mr. Daravuth said government efforts were effectively contributing to the reduction of smoking prevalence. An increase in the Value-Added Tax (VAT) on both domestic and imported tobacco deterred many from smoking.
“The current VAT on cigarettes is still low among the ASEAN countries, with 22 percent on domestic cigarettes and 28 percent on imported cigarettes. “To be successful, we have to impose a 75 percent VAT,” he said.
The study also showed that the text health warnings that took effect in July 2010 on cigarette packs have lost their effectiveness in dissuading people from smoking. Only 44 percent of smokers were found to be deterred from smoking by the warnings, down from 82 percent in 2011.
Bungon Ritthiphakdee, director of Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), warned the tobacco industry would find loopholes to evade the bans and laws and he urged the government to enact more laws to deal with the industry’s new tactics.
“The tobacco industry always finds or looks for a way to target the neo-customers or neo-smokers, especially the young Cambodians. So we need to closely monitor and make sure that they follow strong laws because in other countries, we find that they will look for loopholes.”
According to the WHO, tobacco kills six million people across the world each year and second-hand smoke kills 600,000. If no action is taken, they expect the number to rise to eight million a year by 2030, among which women might account for 2.5 million. For Cambodia, 10,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year.
When asked whether he supported the new measures to cut down smoking in the Kingdom, smoker Mr. Khun had a surprising answer: “Although I am a heavy smoker, I support the government’s initiative to ban smoking in public places.”