Myanmar adopts measure preventing tobacco industry interference in health policy

The Union congratulates Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) for implementing a Code of Conduct that restricts staff and officials from meeting with tobacco industry representatives without permission from the Permanent Secretary.

The new measure (Directive No.91/2020) is intended to increase transparency and ensure that details of any meetings with the tobacco industry – for example, meeting time and date, objective, location and attendees – are recorded. Tobacco industry representatives will be required to seek consent to arrange meetings with MOHS staff in advance, and will be required to keep the meeting strictly confidential. Only the tobacco control unit of the MOHS will have the authority to release information regarding meetings between MOHS and tobacco industry representatives to the public.

“The Union congratulates the MOHS on its leadership in fighting tobacco in Myanmar. This directive is an excellent example of best practice in line with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control  on preventing tobacco industry interference in public policy,” said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Director for The Union Asia Pacific Region. “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and those of public health. It is our hope that more ministries will adopt strict and comprehensive codes of conduct to prevent tobacco industry influence.”

Myanmar has shown its commitment to tobacco control in recent years by adopting measures ensuring 75 percent coverage of tobacco packages with graphic health warnings and 100 percent smokefree regulations. Efforts continue to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products and to strengthen the national tobacco control law.

Yet tobacco use in the country remains high, with 26.1 percent of adults smoking and 43.2 percent using smokeless tobacco, according to a 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) survey. Among young people, who are specifically targeted by the tobacco industry, 11 percent smoke and 6 percent use smokeless tobacco, according to the WHO Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2016.

The tobacco industry has historically employed a variety of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policies in its favour, allowing them to continue to profit from the sale of deadly and addictive products. Recently, the industry has capitalised on the COVID-19 pandemic, offering donations and support to governments under the guise of ‘corporate social responsibility’ in a cynical bid to improve its public image, despite the evidence that smoking is linked to worse health outcomes from COVID-19.