To prevent children and students from becoming tobacco users, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) – together with Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) – has established various outreach and education forums, including a high-profile public speaking competition on the effects of tobacco.

In the June 14 competition announcement, the topic was shared as “Why should educational institutions not partner with tobacco companies?” Candidates must be aged between 15 and 30, and must not be employed in any capacity in the tobacco or alcohol industry. The deadline for applications is June 30.

The announcement said the winner will receive one million riel and a computer. Second place will earn 800,000 riel and a computer, with third place securing 600,000 riel and a mobile phone. The 4th and 5th placed speeches would land 400,000 riel each.

CMH executive director Mom Kong told The Post that now that the Covid-19 situation had improved in Cambodia, the education ministry and his organisation intended to attract as many students as possible to the competition.

“Tobacco companies try to ‘sponsor’ schools and universities, but the only reason they do it is to get exposure for their brand and their company name. They see students as nothing but future customers,” he said.

“Seeing this, the ministry has taken pre-emptive measures to prevent children from becoming customers of the tobacco company. About 15,000 people die each year from tobacco products,” he said.

He acknowledged that many other ministries and organisations had carried out activities that had reduced the number of smokers in the Kingdom, but said that the action needs to be constant, otherwise smoking rates – and deaths – will rise again.

Education ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said the purpose of the competition was to raise awareness of the harmful impact of partnerships between educational institutions and the tobacco industry.

“Disseminating the ministry’s ban on the use, advertising and selling of tobacco products – or cooperation with the tobacco industry – provides a great opportunity for young people to improve their ability to speak publicly,” he said.

The ministry introduced the ban in early 2021. It noted that most public and private institutions have observed the restrictions with no problem.

The ministry said there was a small number of institutions which confused tobacco sponsorship with support from generous people and allowed some prominent tobacco logos to be displayed.

The health ministry’s National Centre for Health Promotion released the results of a 2020 survey of almost 4,000 students, which showed 78.5 per cent of students saw other people’s smoking as harmful to them. Over 60 per cent of the students welcomed a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.

Nearly half of the students thought smoking was difficult to give up once you had begun, although 1 in 5 students believed that smoking helped people to relax in social settings.