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BANGKOK -- CP Seven Eleven Co., the country's biggest convenience store chain, has questioned the Public Health Ministry's order, effective Sept. 24, banning cigarette displays in retail outlets nationwide.

``We are still in the dark about the order. We have not yet seen any official documents from the ministry telling us how to act properly in selling cigarettes. What I have learned is from the media only,'' company vice president Suwit Kingkaew told the Bangkok Post.

CP Seven Eleven has 3,100 outlets nationwide that display cigarettes behind cashier checkpoints. Studies have shown that cigarette displays at convenience stores could influence people's decisions to buy the products because of their strategic location.

According to the ministry, there are about 10 million smokers in Thailand, 22 percent of whom are youngsters between 11-14 years old and another 15 percent between 15-24 years old.

Public Health Minister Suchai Yongarnukul argued that banning cigarette displays could help reduce the number of smokers in the country by 20 to 40 percent.

``We aim to reduce the number of new smokers, especially youngsters, through both legal and non-legal means. However, the number of new smokers has continued to rise to more than 100,000 people now compared with last year. Cigarette displays with attractive designs encourage teenagers to buy the products. That's why we must impose a ban on cigarette displays,'' said the minister.

If the move succeeded, he said, Thailand would be the third country in the world, besides Canada and Ireland, where cigarette displays were prohibited at retail shops.

An Abac Poll survey, released in April, said 64.1 percent of respondents admitted they could not help noticing cigarette products on display upon entering retail outlets, while 60 percent agreed that the prominent displays could influence people's decisions to buy cigarettes.

According to the survey conducted among 3,300 people aged between 11 and 60, 78.6 percent wanted to see compulsory measures to control such displays.

A senior health official said authorities concerned planned to announce additional no-smoking zones in the next few months.

So far, 35 types of no-smoking areas have been declared throughout the country under the Non-Smokers' Health Protection Act of 1992.

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