On 12 October Myanmar’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced the adoption of standardised packaging—also known as plain packaging—on all tobacco products, The comprehensive policy, which includes cigarettes, cheroots, cigars, and other smokeless tobacco products, requires standardised packaging with pictorial health warnings on tobacco packaging to occupy 75% of the upper part of front and back. Text warnings also need to be on the sides and top of all tobacco products. Packaging must be in a standard specified colour and only contain approved information such as the manufacturer’s name, country of origin, manufacture date, brand, and variant name. Additionally, all fonts are standardised. Flavourings are prohibited. The tobacco industry has 180 days to comply with the new notification.
Tobacco companies often use packaging as a form of promotion, marketing and advertising. Brightly coloured and attractive branding distract from lifesaving health warnings. Additionally, misleading descriptions such as ‘light’ and ‘mild” create false perceptions that some products are less harmful than others.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 65,600 people die in Myanmar from tobacco induced diseases every year. The 2014 STEP Survey found an adult smoking prevalence of 26.1% (43.8% men and 8.4% women). Smokeless tobacco use is especially high, with just over 43% of users choosing this form of tobacco. Among youth, according to GYTS (2016), the smoking prevalence is 11%, including 21% boys and 2% girls, and the prevalence for smokeless tobacco use is 6% - 11% boys and 2% girls.
The new policy mandates a five-picture rotation for smoking and smokeless tobacco for a three-year period. Smoking products will include the graphic health warnings depicting lung cancer, oral cancer, gangrene, preterm and low birth weight babies, and the effects of second-hand smoke on children, such as asthma and pneumonia. Smokeless tobacco products such as betel quid will include warnings that show oral cancer, tongue cancer, laryngeal cancer, and preterm and low birth weight babies. All must be printed in equal proportion on all products.
With this ground-breaking decision, Myanmar joins other Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore, which already mandate standardised packaging.
“Plain packaging has great potential to change societal perceptions about smoking and thereby de-normalise their use,” said Tara Singh Bam, Director of The Union Asia Pacific. “The policy is especially critical for reducing the appeal of smoking to teenagers and adults. It makes health warning messages much more prominent, increasing their noticeability.”
The Union has supported Myanmar’s tobacco control work through the Ministry of Health since 2012, providing technical assistance; developing and designing tobacco control policies and programs; building capacity; generating local evidence; promoting international best practice sharing; fostering partnerships with national and subnational governmental and non-governmental stakeholder; and ensuring policy implementation. In less than a decade, The Union/MOH- partnership has produced several key achievements: 100% smokefree regulations were introduced in 2014; a national notification on pictorial health warnings ensuring 75% coverage of tobacco packaging was announced in 2016; and in 2020, MOH issued a code of conduct to prevent industry interferences. The new standardised tobacco packaging builds on this impressive track record.
“This is a significant milestone in Myanmar’s tobacco control journey,” said Dr. Kyaw Kan Kaung, Deputy Director General of Noncommunicable Diseases Control Program, MOH. “Smoking is a major risk factor for NCDs, which are a major cause of mortality and morbidity in Myanmar. We also would like to thank the Union and all our partners for their great efforts and contribution towards this achievement.”
Read the English version of the notification here.