Thailand will become the first country in Asia to enforce the plain-packaging rule and the 16th to do so worldwide, according to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
The new packaging will be drab brown in colour with cigarette brand names printed in a standardised font type, size, colour and location, without brand colours or logos. Pictorial health warnings will occupy the upper 85% of the front and back panels of packs, the largest in Asean.
While the plain packages will be available on Sept 12, distributors and retailers have until Dec 12 to phase out all stocks of older cigarette packages.
“We congratulate the Thai government for this important public health milestone and urge the Ministry of Public Health to strictly monitor compliance and impose penalties on tobacco companies that do not abide by the new law,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the Alliance.
Standardised packaging is intended to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, eliminate tobacco packaging as a form of advertising, and increase the visibility and effectiveness of pictorial health warnings.
More importantly, the Alliance says, by restricting the tobacco industry’s ability to market to young people, it reduces smoking by youth.
Fifteen other countries already require standardised tobacco packaging: Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, Hungary, New Zealand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Canada, Uruguay, Slovenia, Belgium and Israel. At least 13 others are in varying stages of introducing standardised packaging laws, the Alliance says.
Singapore intends to make standardised tobacco packaging mandatory from July 1 next year.
“Singapore and Thailand have blazed a path that neighbouring Asean countries must follow,” said Dr Dorotheo.
The prevalence of tobacco use is high in Thailand, with over 11 million smokers, or an estimated one out of every five adults.
Nearly 50% of men between 35 and 54 years old smoke, public health data shows.
Of particular concern is the persistently high rate of tobacco use among young people – one out of every six Thais between the ages of 13 and 17 uses tobacco.
Last year, a total of 54,512 people died from diseases caused by smoking, according to the Ministry of Public Health.
A law prohibiting smoking at home came into effect on Aug 20 in a bid to reduce deaths caused by second-hand smoke.
Smokers will be given 90 days to refrain from the habit which puts their relatives at serious health risk, according to the 2019 Family Development and Protection Act announced in the Royal Gazette on May 22.
It is not clear how the law will be enforced.
Those who violate the law can be tried in either the juvenile or criminal courts. While no penalty has been fixed yet, the court can order violators to stop smoking in the house and/or undertake a course to quit smoking.
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