The Global Smoke Free Partnership Steering Group has cited Thailand as an outstanding country for its accomplishment in controlling tobacco consumption, the Public Health Ministry's permanent secretary, Dr Prat Boonyawongvirot said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Bloomberg Foundation have given Bt 33 million to Thailand in a bid to support its 100 per cent smoke free environment project and raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.

Prat was presented the Global Smoke free Partnership 2008 Award GSP Extraordinary Award at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco First Asian Regional Conference which is being held in Bangkok from October 28-31.

The award was also presented to the government of Panama, the Inter American Heart Association of Mexico, and Hermant Goswami from India.

He said Thailand was one of the first 40 countries to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global health treaty that promotes a comprehensive set of antitobacco intervention.

Thailand has committed to implement such policies as tax and trade measures, strong graphic pack warning, advertising and promotion bans on tobacco products, and the promotion of a smokefree environment.

He added that Thailand had issued and strongly enforced the 1992 health protection for nonsmoker bill. Government also has continually announced the smoke free environment areas, including the entertainment places and markets. So far, there are 56 places which ban smoking.

However, the National Static Office's record in 2007 showed that 11 million of the 51 million people aged over 15 years old were smokers. Of these, 10 million were men and the rest were women. But the number of smokers has been declining in the past 7 years from 22.5 percent to 18.5 percent.

The survey also showed that the average age of those who had started smoking was 18 years old. People aged between 25 59 year old had the highest smoke rate at 11 cigarettes per day.

Meanwhile, teenagers aged 15 24 years old smoked 8 cigarettes per day. Most smoked because they wanted to take the test, saw others smoking and thought it would make them feel comfortable socially.

Dr Hatai Chitanondh of Thailand Health Promotion Institute, said the smoking behaviour of people was changing especially the poor due to the global economic crisis.

He explained that many poor people smoked the hand made cigarette and bought the mini pack of cigarettes. A lot of illegal cigarettes are smuggled through the border.

Hatai urged the government to set up a purchase system and collect tax from hand made cigarettes and get rid of illegal cigarette vendors.

Additionally, he said government should expand the use of tobacco quit line and clinic over a wider area.

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