Health experts and anti-smoking groups have come out in support of the Public Health Ministry's bid to enlarge warning labels on cigarette packaging.
The Action on Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand group counters an argument from tobacco companies planning to sue the Public HealthMinistry for enlargingwarning labels on cigarette packets. APICHART JINAKUL
They also expressed confidence the ministry would win an Administrative Court case filed by the Thai Tobacco Trade Association (TTTA).
The TTTA lodged a complaint with the Central Administrative Court on June 26, asking it to issue an injunction to suspend the enforcement of a new regulation requiring tobacco firms to enlarge warning labels to cover 85% of the total visible packaging surface.
The current regulation requires warning labels to cover 55% of the packaging.
The association also asked the court to abolish the regulation, which they say was issued without input from stakeholders. The new regulation is set to take effect on Oct 2.
Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance director Bung-on Ritthiphakdee yesterday said tobacco firms had filed similar cases against governments in Australia and Uruguay when those countries were enforcing strict new health warning regulations.
Both the Australian and Uruguayan governments won the cases, she said.
The Sri Lankan government was also being sued by tobacco firms over the same issue, with a Supreme Court ruling on the case due soon. "The regulation is for the protection of people's health," Ms Bung-on said. "Let the packaging tell the truth."
Lakkhana Temsirikulchai, from Mahidol University's public health faculty, believes the move would help deter people from smoking.
The academic conducted a survey among 20,000 people aged over 15 in 2011 and found most people agreed that enlarging warning graphics on cigarette packaging would increase public awareness of tobacco's dangers.
More than 60% of the respondents said they wanted to quit smoking when they saw the graphics.
More than 98% of non-smokers said they did not want to start smoking after seeing the graphics.
The World Health Organisation has recommended the warnings be changed and enlarged every two years to prevent people becoming familiar with them and ignoring them, Ms Bung-on said.
Jirawat Yoosabai, the Public Health Ministry's lawyer in charge of the case, said the court is expected to decide whether to grant an injunction on the regulation within two weeks. A decision on whether to abolish the regulation is likely to be made within 30 days, he said.
The tobacco firms claim they have not been given enough time to prepare new packaging, and called on the regulation to be suspended.
Mr Jirawat disputed that claim, insisting the companies were given enough time to make the change.
"After the regulation comes into force on Oct 2, the companies will have another 180 days to sell off the old-version packaging and prepare their new package designs," he said.
Regarding the plaintiffs' claim the regulation was announced without public hearings as required by Section 57 of the constitution, Mr Jirawat said the ministry invited tobacco companies to join hearings in May. The regulation is unlikely to come under Section 57, which covers development and infrastructure projects that cause environmental and health impacts, he said.
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- Writer: Paritta Wangkiat