The Irrawaddy

Health Minister Sounds Alarm over Tobacco Use

Cigarette butts are seen in an ashtray outside a shop in Nice, France, June 14, 2018. The French government wants to end the bane of discarded cigarette butts and will impose new regulations unless tobacco companies come up with proposals to reduce their number. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RC1BEF20FBA0

YANGON — The Union Health Minister has warned that tobacco use is at a dangerous level in Myanmar and stressed the need for effective measures to control its consumption.

The warning came in the minister’s opening remarks to the two-day Myanmar National Conference on Tobacco Control and Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which began Monday. Citing a 2014 study, Minister of Health and Sports U Myint Htwe said 44 percent of men in Myanmar smoke tobacco, and 62 percent of men consumed quid with tobacco.

“This is an alarming level,” the minister said.

According to the local results of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey which was conducted among school students in 2016, 13.6 percent of young adolescents in Myanmar, aged 13 to 15 years, smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, while 33.2 percent are exposed to tobacco smoke at home and 28.4 percent are exposed inside enclosed public places.

According to the WHO, tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. Some 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

U Myint Htwe said the ministry is conducting “tobacco-free” campaigns at universities and schools.

Saying that the work of preventing NCDs and tobacco control can’t be done solely by the ministry, he called for greater cooperation between concerned ministries, especially the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Planning and Finance, along with civil society organizations on the ground and regional governments.

“The NCDs caused by tobacco consumption are long-term illnesses, so they are costly both psychologically and financially for the patients and their families, and place an additional burden on the government’s funds,” he said.

“Treatments for these illnesses are being provided free at public hospitals. If we do not prioritize tackling these illnesses, the state’s health expenditures will rise sharply in the coming 10 to 15 years, affecting the economy,” he added.

Myanmar ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004 and enacted the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law in 2006.

The law bans smoking and chewing betel nut in tobacco-free places such as schools, hospitals and sports facilities.