Over the recent years, Myanmar has steadily grown to become one of the hottest frontier markets in the Asian continent. And the last few years have seen a rapid increase in the country’s foreign investments, with some of the biggest companies in the world arriving here for their business extensions. However, all the fanfare behind the arrival of these multinational companies have seemingly blanketed a vital factor, i.e. the arrival of not so good companies into the country’s frontiers.
Big Tobacco, the second biggest cigarette manufacturer in the world has decided to invest over $50 million for a period of five years in order to market and sell its products in Myanmar. Unlike other companies such as Coca Cola that announced their investments with press releases and a huge party, Big Tobacco inked the deal after a low-key ceremony that had just a few select government officials in attendance. The reason for this low-key introduction is to avoid public scrutiny and backlash from anti-smoking campaigners.
The company has decided to set up a factory near the city of Yangon, which would reportedly give rise to about 400 job opportunities. Although these kinds of foreign investments would boost the country’s economy to a great extent, priorities like environmental welfare and public health would take a backseat for sure. And there are many factors that substantiate these claims.
In a country like Myanmar, which had seen the first signs of life only 2 years ago, health awareness is very low. The country’s tobacco laws are not properly enforced, with the anti-smoking unit being handled carelessly.
The country’s citizens are yet to learn about the potential health hazards of consuming tobacco. A report released by the UN in 2007 claimed that nearly 65 percent of the Myanmar’s population smoked/chewed tobacco, with women and teenagers contributing to 13 percent and 8 percent respectively.
These individuals either don’t know that smoking is injurious to health or prefer to continue smoking anyways until they get affected. Many even claim to smoke in spite of knowing they would get cancer, stating that cancer does not affect everybody who smokes.
Myanmar is one of the very few countries that have still not decided to add pictorial warnings on the cigarette packs sold inside the country. In spite of ratifying the WHO tobacco treaty recently, the country is yet to enforce the laws pertaining to the marketing, sale and use of tobacco related products. Moreover, same factors seem to draw tobacco giants who face stiff opposition in the form of anti-smoking campaigns elsewhere.
These companies use legal loopholes to gain a stronghold in the country, and usually promote their brand by sponsoring community projects, offering scholarships or advertising through Facebook and other social networking websites. Some local companies even go to the extent of placing cash gifts inside their brands.
Myanmar has just now come out of decades of imprisonment in the name of war. The economy is set to grow and the country is on the throes of a major developmental phase. This has made tobacco companies even more interested in investing in the country slyly. It would only be a matter of time before each store in the country starts selling some kind of tobacco related product or the other, and citizens would have access to walls and walls of cigarette packs lining the stores in each nook and corner of the city.
It all boils down to this. Within a few years, the country would be economically better, at the cost of environmental and public health. It’s definitely going to be a long fight for anti-smoking campaigners indeed!