Myanmar adults and youths hooked on smoking, betel-chewing and drinking


By Arakan Sein

This author wrote an article about smoking, betel-chewing and drinking on 22 August and again on 14 October about smoking and betel-chewing. After careful observations for a year, I relate the following:

History of smoking
Smoking has been practiced in one form or another since ancient times; it dates back to as early as 5000 BC. With the arrival of Europeans in 16th Century, consumption, cultivation and trading quickly spread.
Modernization of farming equipment and manufacturing increased the availability of cigarettes following the reconstruction era in the United States. In 1929, Fritz Lickint of Dresden, Germany published formal statistical evidence of lung cancer-tobacco link, which subsequently caused a strong anti-smoking movement in Nazi Germany.

Smoking in Myanmar
Smoking is prohibited in most indoor public places, indoor workplaces and on public transportation. It is allowed, however, in private rooms and offices in office buildings, factories, places of lodging, public transportation terminals, trains and vessels and restaurants. Myanmar became a party to the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control on 27 February, 2005. Most forms of tobacco advertising and promotion are prohibited, especially through mass media and other forms of wide distribution, including outdoor advertising. Rotating health warnings comprised of text and images are required to cover at least 75% of the main surfaces of the unit and outside packing and labeling.

History of betel-chewing
Betel-chewing originated in Southeast Asia where the tropical climate is conducive to growing areca nut trees and betel vines. Since prehistoric times, it has been embedded in the traditions of Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Although it is considered by the people in all these countries to be of great value to their culture, some Westerners find this practice strange, unhygienic and ugly. Myanmar authorities have attempted to limit its consumption with several awareness campaigns in recent years, while the use of betel quid is banned in the government buildings, schools and hospitals, though these seemingly ineffective campaigns have had a very underwhelming success rate so far.

Betel-chewing the Philippines
Chewing areca nut and betel leaf was a widespread tradition in the past. Now, though, this tradition is almost dead among urban people in the cities and big towns and has largely been replaced by gum and tobacco.

In Thailand
Betel quid chewing has always been an important part of Thai culture and tradition. In the past, betel- chewing was a popular daily activity among Thais all over the country.

In Sri Lanka
Betel quid, a masticatory widely used in Sri Lanka, consists of tobacco, the nuts and leaves of betel plants and calcium hydroxide. An ethyl acetate extract of tobacco induced morphological transformation of hamster embryo cells. The extract also induced sister chromatid exchanges in virally transformed and phytohaemagglutinin- stimulated human lymphocytes.

Drinking in Myanmar
Beer, rum and whisky are the most popular alcohol drinks in Myanmar and wine can be found in higher-end restaurants and hotels. Most Myanmar people, particularly men love a drink and are more happy to enjoy one in the company of foreign visitors. During the day and early evening, it is always easy to find a restaurant or beer station to sit down and have a refreshing beer or a glass of rum. The concept and traditions of drinking in Myanmar are different from other parts of the world, however. Nightlife does not exist outside large cities and some luxury hotels and resorts.
My observations may be right or wrong: I keep seeing a lot of young and old people hooked on some habits of smoking, betel-chewing and drinking and even ear borings on one ear or two. They think they are pursuing a sort of fashion. In this case, I would propose to emulate the way South Korea did some years ago. South Korea enforced strict smoking bans in all public places since July 2013 with fines of W 100,000 on any spotted smoker and up to W 5 million on shop owners not following the law. It is illegal to smoke in all bars, restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, government buildings, schools, universities, hospitals, youth facilities, libraries, children playgrounds, private academies, subway or train stations and their platforms and underground pathways, large buildings, theaters, department stores or shopping malls, large hotels and highway rest areas. The strict bans came into force gradually beginning with a ban on places larger than 150 square meters in 2012, extended to 100 square meters in 2014, with a full-pledged complete nationwide ban on 1 January, 2015.
In conclusion, the Government will have to play a vital role in controlling bad habits of smoking, betel-chewing and drinking as the results will show in a period of some 30 years for the generations to come.

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