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November 8 is a date of special significance in Thailand, as it is both the date of official funding of ThaiHealth in 2001 and the effective date in 2002 of new restrictions banning smoking in public places, including air conditioned restaurants. A previous article has highlighted that the adoption of the health promotion fund is a crucial milestone for tobacco control (Tobacco Control 2001;10:48–54). While a quick survey shows tremendous strides for tobacco control, the tobacco industry has quietly gained ground in many areas, too.
The industry has been able to limit Thailand’s efforts to monitor tobacco control indicators, gained policymaking friends and slowed or disabled important tobacco consumer protection efforts. For example, the ingredient disclosure requirements did not result in direct consumer disclosure of ingredients. While the pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs are approved and will eventually be in place, processes like this are often unnecessarily delayed. Tobacco industry documents from court actions make it clear that the transnational tobacco companies working in Thailand have been able to gain many allies among politicians, circumvent or flagrantly violate advertising laws, and influence the nature and extent of research on tobacco, by providing money or support to major research institutes and influential academics in Thailand. These three strategies, together with corporate sponsorship and philanthropy, have slowed progress in tobacco control.
A recent newspaper editorial in support of tobacco control in Thailand challenged tobacco control agencies to do more to achieve a rapid decline in the total number of smokers. Tobacco control advocates and organisations are seriously pursuing these end points as well as intermediate goals. Nonetheless, building an infrastructure of positive tobacco control programmes takes some time. It requires breaking down the industry’s negative, well funded strategies of negligence, diversion, and delay. In short, the task is confronting and taking apart a complex hidden agenda supported by vast resources. So far so good, but the race is increasingly a case of constantly having to win the next victory, whether on November 8 or other dates each year, despite a continuous stream of obstacles from the tobacco industry.
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