Phnom Penh, Cambodia ... [ANN] Working to combat a "smoking epidemic" in Cambodia, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) began the Tobacco-Free Kids Project earlier this year.

"Cigarette and tobacco use plagues Cambodia in epidemic proportions," says Stephen Nyirady, Intern Country director for ADRA Cambodia. "Over 70 percent of adult males smoke, and tobacco advertizing dominates the city [of Phnom Penh]. ADRA surveys have shown that 66 percent of smokers want to quit, and over 80 percent would like to see tobacco advertizing banned."

A Reuters press report under the headline "Marlboro Man, Tobacco Giants, Gallop into Cambodia" confirms the situation.

"The Marlboro Man, astride a billboard-sized horse, towers over many of the city’s traffic-clogged intersections… International cigarette makers say a lack of regulations, low taxes and a strategic location in the region make Cambodia a good bet for business, and they’re wasting no time in capitalizing on the country’s smoker-friendly environment," says the Reuters report.

It also quotes M.A. Allem, General Manager of British-American Tobacco (BAT) Cambodia as saying, "BAT is already the number one international tobacco company in the region. In order to maintain this position we are committed to new and emerging markets such as Cambodia."

In response to this vigorous promotion of smoking in Cambodia which has resulted in an estimated seven billion cigarettes a year being produced or imported, ADRA is working to highlight the economic cost and the health risks.

"More than one million young people will die of tobacco-related causes in Cambodia in the future," according to Colin Radford, co-ordinator of ADRA’s health programs. "The government is more concerned about getting revenues in the short term, but this is going to be a huge economic deficit to the nation."

The Tobacco-free Kids (TFK) Project is just one of the ongoing programs.

"It was the first of its kind in the country, targeting youth and young adults in the prevention and cessation of smoking," says Nyirady. "The TFK project goal is that Cambodian young people will choose a healthy, smoke-free lifestyle."

The project included the production of TV ads, radio broadcasts, stickers, T-shirts, school posters, model lung smoking demonstrations, and a series of brochures and resource kits. Phase two of the project continues with funding from ADRA Australia. [Jonathan Gallagher]