Student Smokers Defy Health Dangers

Experts call for big rise in tobacco tax

PHNOM PENH – Cigarettes are a daily expense for teenage students, greatly concerning teachers and health experts.

Many young people are seen smoking near school fences stalls, cafés and public spaces.

Kim Leang, a grade nine student in Sihanoukville, said she often sees three or four male students smoking in coffee shops and near the school fences during breaks.

Teachers warned them often but they continued to waste the money on cigarettes.

Sok San, a high school teacher in Siem Reap province, said he could only take a deep breath when he saw young people, some in school uniforms, smoking in public.

The group he often sees smoking are not his students. They are still minors and mostly male, he said.

“I saw them buy a pack of cigarettes and share a loosie one by one with their friends. They smoke in style, by blowing up in the air. They are very young and some of them don’t even know how to smoke”, he said, adding that it is a common sight while he is cycling in his free time.

A 19-year-old with the pseudonym of Lee said he is unable to break the habit, despite knowing it is harmful to his health. He started smoking in ninth grade because he wanted to try it out with his friends.

Lee said he does not smoke every day but does so on outings with his friends at drinking places. He admitted that smoking causes body odor, bad breath and poor health but still keeps doing it.

A pack of cigarettes costs him from 6,000 to 7,000 riel or roughly $1.5 to $1.75. Cigarettes are usually sold at the market or at the stalls without the sellers asking anything, he said.

An expert warns of serious health consequences

Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) executive director Mom Kong says smoking causes serious health problems and is a waste of time and money.

It increases the risk of stroke, pneumonia and heart attack. Children under 18 may face more challenges than adults because their bodies are not yet fully developed, he said.

Kong said the effects of smoking come in three levels. First, it causes many diseases, especially leading to strokes, pneumonia and heart attacks. Second is the impact on the financial situation of individuals, with a lot spent on cigarettes and on medical treatment for illnesses. The third impact is the environmental damage caused by the chemical smoke, and micro-plastic of cigarette butts, which pollute the environment and water.

“It is not just the smoker alone who gets sick, but those around the smoker also get sick,” Kong said. “If a smoker dies prematurely, how much does the nation lose when human resources die prematurely?”

E-cigarettes make smoking more addictive

The use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) is also a trend among many students.

Although e-cigs and shisha were banned by the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) in 2014, e-cigs are still in high demand. Prices range from $25 to $100 or more, depending on the category, said Mom Kong of CMH.

“E-cigs are expensive for students who cannot afford them. So, they raise money among their friends to buy this device and use it together,” Kong said.

According to Cambodia Movement for Health, the shared use of e-cigs, in addition to the high risk of COVID-19 infection, also causes pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic pneumonia, strokes and heart disease just like regular cigarettes.

It said e-cigs are not a smoking cessation device, but a tool to attract young people to use them because they are user friendly and have many flavors.

Education Ministry does not welcome partnerships with the tobacco industry

Ros Soveacha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, said that in February the ministry issued a directive banning public and private schools from partnering with tobacco industries.

“We do not allow sponsorship or an MoU with the tobacco industry, as well as the provision of a place or yard of public and private educational institutions to tobacco industry outreach programs. We must participate in eliminating the use of tobacco products in all forms,” said Soveacha.

The management committee of any educational institution should take administrative action against students who smoke, he said. If necessary, schools can cooperate with provincial education departments.

The ministry has two levels of administrative measures which can be used against students. The first is to seek an apology letter to force them to stop smoking. The second is expulsion.

The Ministry of Information has also contributed to the fight against smoking by banning all advertising through the media, he said.

Increase tobacco tax

Increasing the cigarette tax and boosting the education of young people by displaying warnings on cigarette packs and banning advertisements was necessary to prevent young people from smoking,  said Mom Kong.

A study by National Meanchey University in 2021 shows that 94 percent of Cambodians support doubling the tobacco tax, which would increase the retail price by 62 percent.

“Cambodia has the lowest tax on cigarettes, with 20% tax on local retail cigarettes and 30% on imported cigarettes. Singapore’s tax is more than 70%, so the gap between us and them is far,” Kong said. In 2014, there were about two million smokers and other tobacco users.

According to the Cambodian Movement for Health, raising tobacco taxes would help Cambodia earn $235 million over five years and $933 million in 15 years if the tax could be raised to 75 percent of the retail price.

A study on the tobacco tax revenue gap in selected ASEAN countries by the Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) showed that Cambodia lost tax revenue of about 279 billion riels in 2019 and 532 billion riels in 2020 due to the failure to increase the tax on cigarettes by 500 riel per pack and 1,000 riel per pack in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Related Articles