NAYPYITAW—The Lower House of Parliament on Thursday approved a proposal urging the Union government to take steps to reduce the prevalence of cancer in the country.
Describing consumption of unhealthy foods as one of the leading causes of cancer in Myanmar, Lower House lawmaker U Kyaw Lwin Aung urged the government to take action in line with the law to prevent unscrupulous, self-interested businesspeople from selling unhealthy foods.
“The proposal is aimed at preventing the development of cancer and resultant deaths in innocent consumers due to unscrupulous businesspeople who only care for their interests,” U Kyaw Aung Lwin said.
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and accounted for an estimated 9.6 million deaths last year.
U Kyaw Aung Lwin, quoting figures from the Ministry of Health and Sports, said Myanmar saw 69,554 new cancer patients in 2018, of whom 51,059 died. According to researchers, one in every five men, and one in every six women develop cancer.
Behaviors involving some of the leading risk factors for cancer—such as smoking cigarettes; using chewing tobacco or betel nut; prolonged exposure to chemicals, dyes and waste products in the workplace; having more than one sex partner; and an unhealthy lifestyle, including a poor diet—can be regulated by laws, lawmakers said.
Existing laws in Myanmar, such as the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Products Law, Special Commodity Tax Law, Burma Excise Act, National Sports Law, Law on the Practice of Monogamy, Consumer Protection Law, National Food Law, and Occupational Safety and Health Law, can be applied to raise public awareness of and control activities that can result in cancer, said lawmaker Dr. Sein Mya Aye of Dala Township.
In his discussion of the proposal, Dr. Sein Mya Aye however questioned the implementation of laws in Myanmar.
The Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Products Law was promulgated some 13 years ago, he said, but little progress has been made on restricting smoking and the chewing of betel nut.
Concerned ministries including those of Health and Sports; Commerce; Finance and Planning; Home Affairs; Labor, Immigration and Population; and Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation are responsible for effectively implementing those laws, the lawmakers said.
The use of chemicals in food coloring and the use of formalin, also commonly known as formaldehyde, by vendors are common in Myanmar. Formalin, which is used to preserve the shelf life of foods, poses a significant danger to human health.
The Food and Drug Administration, a government agency responsible for ensuring the safety of food and pharmaceutical products, has made frequent surprise checks in markets in major cities, but its efforts have not proven very effective in tackling the use of formalin and other chemicals.
The Ministry of Health and Sports agreed to approve the proposal. Deputy Health Minister Dr. Mya Lay Sein stressed the need to systematically screen and prevent imports of foods and pesticides that can cause cancer.
The deputy minister called for enforcing the ban on smoking in public places, and suggested increasing the commercial tax on tobacco and tobacco products, and the use of the tax revenue to fund health and sport activities.
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