The Imperial Tobacco AGM takes place today. Wendell C Balderas is Media and Communications Manager of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). In this blog post he reveals a side of the company they would prefer to hide.
In May 2016, Lao PDR’s Ministry of Health issued the Pictorial Health Warnings (PHWs) Regulation requiring all tobacco companies to print 75% health warnings on cigarette packs — an international best practice and a crucial investment in the health of the Lao people.
Because they are easily understood, PHWs are vital to educate smokers and the public on the harms caused by tobacco use, and thereby, help motivate quit attempts and discourage Lao PDR’s vulnerable groups, particularly the poor and the youth, from smoking. PHWs are also remarkably cost-effective communication channels, especially among the low literacy population.
However, tobacco companies Imperial-controlled Lao Tobacco Company Ltd and Lao-China Hongta Good Luck Company Ltd., who control over 80 percent of the cigarette market, have been violating the law by not printing PHWs on their cigarette packs. These companies have requested and been granted three extensions of the implementation deadline (a total of 19 months). In contrast, other countries in the ASEAN region gave tobacco companies only three to six months to comply with their PHWs regulation.
The latest deadline given by the Ministry of Industry is the 1st of January 2018, but monitoring done by SEATCA in several locations in Vientiane Capital City after the January deadline showed that the most popular and widely sold cigarettes brands in Lao PDR, ‘A Deng’ and ‘Dok Mai Deng’ produced by these two companies, still do not have the PHWs required by the law. The Lao government has already given the tobacco industry more than ample time to comply, but these companies have chosen to ignore the law.
In a letter to Lao PDR Prime Minster Thongloun Sisoulith, SEATCA requested the Prime Minister to urgently take action for the regulation to be implemented well. SEATCA has also urged him to endorse and certify the draft penalty decree by the Ministries of Health and Justice so that the companies that violate the law can be penalized.
SEATCA has also published an open letter to the Shareholders of Imperial Brands demanding them to respect the Lao people by complying with the tobacco control law to apply 75% pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs immediately.
More than 73,000 adolescent boys and half of all men smoke in Laos. About 28% of the population lives below the poverty line, with one third of the population living on 10,400 LAK (£0.89) a day.
This means money for basic household expenses is spent on tobacco, and breadwinners are at high risk of financial ruin from tobacco-caused diseases and death. About 6,200 Lao people die from tobacco-related diseases annually.