light of Myanmar
Tuesday, 2 January, 2001
South East- Asia Anti-
Tobacco ( SEAAT) Flame
Tobacco consumption in various
forms, smoking in particular, has become the twentieth century’s epidemic. It
has been estimated that tobacco kills over 4 million people across the world. If
this trend is allowed to continue, the loss of human lives could exceed 10
million by the next decade with the majority occurring in the developing world.
Tobacco has thus become a greater preventable cause of death and disability than
any single disease and is emerging as a major health issue in this part of the
The South East Asia Anti-Tobacco (SEAAT) Flame was therefore launched in New
Delhi on the 7th of January 2000 by the World Health Organization in
collaboration with the respective Ministries of Health with the aim of
mobilizing countries in the South East Asia Region for tobacco control.
It arrived in Myanmar on the 15th of December from Maldives after passing
through 11 countries of the Region, and will return to India on the 7th of
January 2001. The flame in many countries symbolizes, life, youth and victory of
good over evil. It also symbolizes knowledge which will enlighten us about the
hidden dangers of tobacco use. It will free many from tobacco dependence and
highlight the ability of humans to rise even from ashes to achieve their goals.
The aim of this campaign is to stimulate and mobilize social action against
tobacco, to enlighten policy makers and the public on issues related to tobacco
use and to initiate and sustain a region-wide tobacco campaign against tobacco
This will promote not only health and well-being but stimulate social and
economic development as well, by reducing tobacco consumption and related harm.
Although the entire population is targeted, special focus is on policy makers,
and vulnerable groups such as youth and women. Involvement of youth and women is
essential for success of the campaign, as they are the prime targets of the
Under the guidance of the National Health Committee, the Ministry of Health in
collaboration and co-ordination with other Ministries, non-governmental
organizations and local authorities, has orchestrated an impressive event to
welcome the flame and is conducting numerous activities to commemorate the
occasion both at national and local level among the four Townships in Yangon
Division where the flame stops over.
At the National Level, various mass media communication channels, such as radio,
TV, newspapers, magazines, posters, pamphlets, stickers, were used to raise
health awareness about the dangers of tobacco use among the public.
Essay competition were held among school children nation-wide and prizes
were distributed during the welcoming ceremony of the flame at the Institute of
Nursing in Yangon.
In the 4 townships of Yangon D;vision, Lanmadaw, Thanlyin, Dagon Myothit South)
and Shwepyithar, where the flame stopped over, seminars, extempore talk
competition, quiz on related topics, exhibitions were held and prizes were
In the States and Divisions, similar anti-smoking activities are also being
All these events have been given a good media coverage throughout the country.
Anti-smoking campaign, however, is not new to this country.
Myanmar for many years has been implementing a tobacco control programme based
on Elements of Comprehensive National Tobacco Control Programmes outlined in the
report by the Director-General of WHO, and subsequently adopted by the
Forty-eighth World Health Assembly. Elements that has already being implemented
include a national focal point to stimulate, support and co-ordinate tobacco
control activities. A national tobacco control programme and national
coordinating organization on “tobacco or health” for promotion and
education for smoking prevention is functioning so also is an effective
programme of promotion for smoking prevention and support for cessation of
Effective measures against involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke in public
transport vehicles, public places and workplaces have already been undertaken.
Measures are in place to ensure that health care workers and institutions set a
good example by not smoking themselves, make their institutions smoke-free and
through their own training, counseling and advocacy activities emphasize the
benefits of a smoke free life. Trends in smoking and other forms of tobacco use,
tobacco related diseases, have been monitored and effectiveness of national
smoking control activities are being assessed by appropriate surveys and audit.
Research in relevant areas is also being conducted.
Advocacy campaign is under way to increase tobacco taxes, to restrict tobacco
advertising promotion and sponsorship, and to adopt a legal requirement for
strong, varied health warnings on packages of cigarettes, although locally
manufactured cigarettes carry such warnings.
Restriction of access of tobacco products including prohibition on sale of
tobacco products to young people, limitation of the permissible levels of tar
and nicotine in manufactured tobacco, mandatory reporting of the levels of toxic
constituents in manufactured tobacco products and to explore strategies to
provide economic alternatives to tobacco-growing for agriculture workers are
other issues which will also be advocated.
Myanmar has also been working with International Agencies, National and
International NGOS, WHO and other member nations of the WHO on tobacco control.
It has become increasingly realised that, because of the magnitude of the
problem created by tobacco use, and with the problem extending beyond the bounds
of public health and national boundaries, tobacco control in individual
countries would be more successful if an effective mechanism, such as a Frame
Convention or an International Treaty exist among member states to co-ordinate
and collaborate national tobacco programmes more effectively.
Myanmar has been actively involved in the process which will eventually lead to
the signing of such a treaty, the WHO Framework Convention On Tobacco Control (FCTC),
among member states in 2003. Delegates from Myanmar has attended two working
group meetings on PCTC and one session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body
in Geneva, in October this year. It is also noteworthy that Myanmar was a
recipient of three WHO Tobacco or Health Medal awards for dedication,
commitment, and outstanding work towards tobacco control.
Science writer Theit Pan Hmu Tin in 1991, Professor U Aung, Cardiologist, and
Project Manager of the Cardiovascular Disease Control Project, Ministry of
Health in 1992, and the Institute of Nursing, Ministry of Health in 1994
received the awards, respectively.
We should not, however, rest on our laurels but continue to work together in
harmony with various sectors of the society to stamp out this modern-day scourge
facing mankind. It is hoped that the flame will ignite and strengthen a
sustained tobacco control campaign not only in this country but in all of the
countries within this Region in order that we reach our goal of a tobacco-free
: Professor U Aung