Mandalay city officials are facing public condemnation over a tobacco company’s sponsorship of an upcoming mini-marathon that will be held in honor of Myanmar’s 70th Independence Day on Jan. 4.
The controversy came to light when a Facebook user named Kyaw Naing Win posted photos of ads for a company called Golden Elephant that have been hung around course of the Mandalay Mayor’s Marathon.
Along with the photos, Kyaw Naing Win wrote a short essay pointing out that public advertisements for tobacco products are illegal in Myanmar and questioning how much money the local government made from the sponsorship deal.
Comments on the post included photos of napkins and water bottles emblazoned with Golden Elephant logos.
Section 8 of Myanmar’s Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law (2006) prohibits public advertisements for tobacco products, distributing free gifts with tobacco-related labels, and sponsorships of athletic events by tobacco companies, among other forms of advertisement.
Critics have called the Golden Elephant ads deceptive because while they mention Golden Elephant by name, they do not explicitly mention tobacco products, which appears to have been orchestrated in an attempt to skirt the tobacco law.
However, lawyer Thein Than Oo told Eleven that the ads still probably violate the law and, on top of that, are unethical considering the health-related nature of the marathon.
Kyaw Naing Win, the Facebook critic, wondered how city officials could accept Golden Elephant’s sponsorship, given that Mandalay’s mayor Ye Lwin is a medical doctor.
On Dec. 29, Mandalay Region chief minister Dr. Zaw Myint Maung responded to the criticism, saying Golden Elephant is just one of many of the marathon’s sponsors, and businesses are free to advertise as they see fit. He also accused the critics of hypocrisy, claiming they have never complained about beer and alcohol commercials surrounding UK Premier League matches.
Other Mandalay officials have since parroted the chief minister’s response.
Violators of Myanmar’s tobacco law can be fined between K20,000 and K50,000 for a first offense and between K50,000 and K200,000, plus a two-year prison sentence, for a second offense.