Myanmar delegation hosted by The Union to observe Scotland’s tobacco control in action

A high-level delegation of ministers, diplomats and academics from Myanmar visited The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control in Edinburgh on 4 August to observe Scotland’s progressive tobacco control laws in action and to meet with experts in healthcare and policy development. The delegation was led by Myanmar’s Minister of Health, Dr Than Aung; Permanent Secretary of Health, Professor Thet Khine Win; Director of International Health, Dr Kyaw Khaing and Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Kyaw Zwar Minn.  

Scotland’s innovative strategy to create a tobacco-free generation was presented and discussed by the government’s head of tobacco, alcohol and diet, Daniel Kleinberg; an international perspective on the tobacco epidemic was given by Professor Judith Mackay, and The Union team presented on the impact of tobacco control globally. A short tour of the city centre offered an opportunity to observe successful policy in practice, including point-of-sale display bans and 100 per cent smokefree public spaces.  

‘The aim of the visit was to bring people together to share practical knowledge and discuss how potential challenges can be overcome,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. ‘It was a privilege to host Myanmar’s public health leaders and to be able to share some of the excellent tobacco control work that is happening here in Scotland, and further afield. Yesterday’s visit was pivotal. It resulted in several concrete outcomes.’

The health minister committed to introducing graphic health warnings covering 75 per cent of the surface area of tobacco packaging by the end of August. The new directive will include both cigarette and smokeless tobacco packaging, and it will meet the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s strongest recommendations for tobacco labelling and packaging. At present, packs in Myanmar simply display a small text warning on one side. Graphic health warnings are proven to encourage smokers to quit, and discourage non-smokers from starting.

Rector of the University of Medicine Yangon also made a commitment – to collaborate with The Union on the development of e-learning courses for Masters in Public Health students, where a tobacco control module completed online will earn students credits towards their degree. This course will help build capacity amongst academics in Myanmar to sustain tobacco control work into the future.

‘We have been working in Myanmar for just two years, and already we have seen real progress to protect health from the harms of tobacco use,’ said Tara Singh Bam, The Union’s Senior Technical Advisor in the Asia-Pacific Region. ‘Myanmar still has some of the highest rates of tobacco use in the world, but these new commitments, backed with effective enforcement strategies will have a strongly positive impact.’

Currently 44 per cent of adult men, and 8.5 per cent of women in Myanmar smoke; while 62 per cent of men, and 24 per cent of women use smokeless tobacco. Yesterday the health minister also pledged to work with the Ministry of Finance on tobacco control’s highest impact strategy – increasing tobacco taxes on both combustible and smokeless tobacco products.