The Ministry of Public Health, along with anti-tobacco NGOs, recently declared that they would soon propose the draft Tobacco Consumption Control Act (TCCA) to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for their approval.
The proposed TCCA will have negative effects on the income and well-being of over 500,000 retailers and more than 52,000 tobacco farming households nationwide. Many farming households also grow rice and are just now recovering from the hardships created by the rice policy. Therefore, retailers and farmers both recommend that the NCPO reject the TCCA and focus on the more urgent issue of fixing the economy, given how small, mom-and-pop retailers and farmers have suffered during the recent economic downturn.
Mr. Somnuek Yimpin, manager of Burley Tobacco Farmers Association of Sukhothai, who is also a rice farmer, said, “We would like to show our gratitude to the NCPO for accelerating the rice payments to farmers, which had put many rice farmers under extreme pressure during the past months. The problem has now lessened at some level. We hope that NCPO will not issue any proposed law without carefully studying if the law could hurt farmers’ lives and incomes. Our association is more than happy to meet NCPO in order to point out related effects that the Ministry of Public Health has failed to inform NCPO. We truly hope NCPO will give us a chance.”
Since 2012, tobacco farmers and their associations, the Thai Tobacco Trade Association, the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly and its labor union, the Ministry of Finance, tobacco companies and many other groups have voiced concern about this extreme bill. These groups opposed the bill during public hearings, submitted letters to the Ministry of Public Health and other government agencies and asked authorities to review, amend and cancel the draft. However, the Ministry of Public Health has ignored such actions and comments, and still moves on to push the draft into its place.
“We, tobacco farmers, have been opposing this bill all along. The Ministry of Finance and the Excise Department, who have been taking care of us, also disagree on many points of the TCCA and are concerned on the potential impacts. Currently, there is no urgent need for this legislation, as NCPO still has a lot of other important issues on their agenda. Any laws that potentially impact the people should be carefully considered. This legislation should be put on hold until we have official House of Representatives and Senate representing the people to review the law”, said Mr. Songkran Pakdeejit, president of Burley Tobacco Farmers Association of Petchabun.
The Ministry of Public Health and health lobbyists are trying to take advantage of the NCPO and push the TCCA during this time of turmoil. This kind of behavior previously occurred during times of political turmoil when they could seek approval of laws without proper debate or objections from impacted groups. Therefore, tobacco farmers and retailers nationwide are banding together to ask the NCPO not to rush on passing this regulation.
“In order to reform the country, we realize that the NCPO is currently reviewing many plans and laws, especially those that require urgency. Tobacco farmers would like to ask NCPO to think about any impacts new laws will have on grassroots-level people. Tobacco farmers will definitely be affected by the draft of TCCA”, commented Mr. Arun Pothita, village headman from moo 6, Baan Mae Pha Han, On-tai subdistrict, Sunkampang district, Chiang Mai, a representative of farmers and curers in the North.
Ultimately, the TCCA would deprive impacted groups of their liberties and rights. The bill would exclude the tobacco trade and growing communities from participating in policy making, prohibit retailers – including major player like CP 7-11 and Tesco – from conducting CSR programs in partnership with government agencies, restrict interactions between the industry and the government, create burdens and increase costs for retailers and force industry participants to disclose sensitive data to bureaucrats and NGOs.
“The Tobacco Consumption Control Act increases the burden and hardship towards retailers, as well as deprives our liberty and rights of commerce. Quite a lot of measures are irrational and will not lead to a decrease of tobacco consumption. TTTA suggests that NCPO should give priority to issues related to economy and livelihood of people. Many sections in this legislation still need further review and changes, which should be put on hold. In the meantime, we should focus on education and enforcing existing laws, not creating more laws,” Mrs. Varaporn Namatra, Thai Tobacco Trade Association (TTTA) Executive Director, concluded.