In Cambodia, a major government offensive has made it possible to partially counter the online sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco, but is struggling to restrict advertising for these products.
The import and sale of electronic cigarettes has been banned in Cambodia since 2014. The import and marketing of heated tobacco devices was banned in March 2021.. Despite these provisions, these types of products were promoted and offered for sale on major social networks, including Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. The Cambodian authorities have therefore launched, since June 26, several waves of seizures of equipment offered for sale.
Offensive by the authorities against social networks
These police operations, led by the anti-drug squads, led to the arrest of around sixty people and the seizure of several thousand devices (electronic cigarettes, disposable electronic cigarettes, electronic chicha, refills, chargers). Extensive control operations have also been deployed in private and public schools, with searches of student bags and prevention sessions on the dangers of vaping and heated tobacco..
The actors of the non-governmental organization Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) were however able to establish that this major operation had only a temporary effect; sales of these electronic devices have gradually resumed as police operations receded, but in a more discreet way, for example by advertising on Facebook and organizing sales via the Telegram network. The CMH also found that advertising for these devices was still active but remained more cautious, and that many social media accounts preferred to stop selling these products.
At the end of a workshop organized on August 16 by the anti-drug brigades, the cybercrime department and other institutions concerned, the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) reaffirmed its intention to continue the actions undertaken by locating the distribution and advertising points, and ordering those involved to cease their activities. In most cases, offenders have only been reminded of the law, with the signing of a contract telling them not to do it again.
Products perceived as dangerous to health
In tune with the authorities on the subject, Dr. Mom Kong, director of the CMH, was alarmed by the rapid growth in the use of these electronic devices among young people. He pointed out that e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are addictive and harmful, especially for younger people. The Ministry of Health has highlighted the complications and pathologies likely to be caused in the long term by electronic cigarettes, in particular on the brain (anxiety, brain development, memory and learning disorders ), the lungs and the heart. He also considers that they could lead young people to become regular tobacco smokers, or even illicit drug users.
These positions are shared by the many countries that have already banned electronic cigarettes and largely echo those of the World Health Organization (WHO). In Cambodia, the claim that e-cigarettes could be smoking cessation aids is considered exaggerated and misleading. It is also contrary to the provisions adopted in the country relating to the presentation of these products.
Willingness to enforce the law
The promotion, advertising and online sale of tobacco and other nicotine products are activities faced by all countries. When they are banned in some countries, they find it difficult to regulate this parallel online market, especially when the sites or accounts of social networks are based abroad.
The Cambodian example shows, however, that a state wishing to give itself the means to apply the laws it enacts can take strong measures to counter this trade, despite the limits of this exercise. As for the repression of any illegal activity, it is never certain that a law can be fully applied, but it remains the responsibility of each state to implement the necessary means to enforce it.
Keywords: Cambodia, electronic cigarette, heated tobacco, social networks, online sales, advertising
©Tobacco Free Generation
 Ban on heated tobacco in Cambodia, Generation Without Tobacco, published on March 24, 2022, consulted on August 24, 2022.
 Bunthœurn O, Sixty detainees warned against selling “vapes” or e-cigarettesThe Phnom Penh News, published August 23, 2022, accessed August 24, 2022.
 Dara V, The government’s crackdown on vaping grows bigger and strongerThe Phnom Penh News, published July 7, 2022, accessed August 24, 2022.
 Kimmarita L. Vape advertising continues ‘cautiously’ after crackdownThe Phnom Penh News, published August 17, 2022, accessed August 24, 2022.
National Anti-Smoking Committee |