Laos Mandates Graphic Health Warnings on Cigarette Packages to Combat Smoking Epidemic

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Laos Mandates Graphic Health Warnings on Tobacco, E-Cigarettes to Combat Smoking Epidemic
FILE: this image is used only for representational purpose (photo credit: J&C Group)

The Lao Ministry of Health has mandated that 75 percent of all cigarette packages must feature graphic health warning images by December this year. This initiative aims to curb smoking and its associated health risks, particularly among the nation’s youth.

Speaking at a press conference on 17 May, Minister of Health Bounfeng Phoummalaysith emphasized the severe impact of smoking and secondhand smoke exposure on public health. He reported that smoking and indirect exposure to smoke are leading causes of serious illness, disability, and early death in Laos.

The minister added that about 18 people die each day from smoking-related illnesses, totaling 6,700 deaths annually, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths in the country. 

According to a senior lawyer from the Secretariat of the International Convention on Tobacco Control, Kate Lannan, as of 2021, smoking causes more deaths than road accidents every year in Laos, with 6,800 people succumbing to smoking-related illnesses annually compared to 831 deaths from road accidents.

Minister Bounfeng highlighted the financial burden of smoking-related illnesses, noting that annual medical expenses account for 2.3 percent of the country’s GDP. However, he stressed that these deaths are preventable if effective tobacco control measures are in place.

To bolster these measures, the government has introduced initiatives such as increasing taxes on cigarettes, banning all forms of tobacco advertising, and establishing smoke-free areas in offices and public spaces. Additionally, the public must be further educated about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke through prominently displayed images of the bodily harm caused by smoking.

Despite these efforts, compliance with tobacco control regulations remains a concern. The National Committee for Tobacco Control has expressed dismay over the inadequate compliance with the 2016 agreement on pictorial health warnings. In response, the health warning ruling was amended in 2021 to align with the Law on Tobacco Control, requiring all tobacco products to feature updated visual health warnings and messages.

However, the challenge extends beyond traditional tobacco products. E-cigarettes, popular among teenagers and young adults, pose a new threat. Phonepaseuth, a 24-year-old vape user, admitted to being addicted, citing peer pressure and the perceived pleasant scent of vapes as reasons for starting. However, he expressed a desire to quit, acknowledging the harm caused by e-cigarettes.

“I used to smoke traditional cigarettes when I was a teenager and managed to stop,” said Phonepaseuth. “But when I came across vapes, I became addicted again.”

According to the young adult, he could smoke E-Cigarette anywhere, even in areas where smoking is not allowed. He claimed that while tobaccos are able to spread a stinky smell, vapes give out a more pleasant scent. 

“It all started because I saw my friends smoking,” he added, explaining that peer pressure had gotten the best of him. “I do not blame them, though. I just thought it was cool, so I followed what they did.”

While being a heavy smoker who “cannot go a day without smoking”, Phonpaseuth expressed his desire to cease the bad behavior. “It is all about our will power, but I don’t think I have much of that to actually change.” 

The 24-year-old wished that Laos could shift more attention towards E-cigarettes due to its mainstreams among teenagers and young adults as he acknowledges the indifference drawback between traditional smoke and vapes.

The World Health Organization estimated in a 2022 report that tobacco-related diseases cost Laos LAK 3.6 trillion (USD 173 million) annually. E-cigarettes, considered as harmful as traditional tobacco, could usher in a new wave of addiction if not curbed.

As World No Tobacco Day approaches on 31 May, the Ministry of Health urges parents to educate their children about the deceptive claims made by cigarette manufacturers and to reinforce the health risks associated with smoking. By adhering to these stringent tobacco control measures, the ministry aims to massively reduce smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Laos.