Deputy Finance Minister Thanusak Lek-uthai, siding with the petitioners, said Wednesday that drafting the bill should be suspended pending an assessment of opinions from all parties concerned.
Claiming that the draft bill is a violation of the constitution, he said Thailand and Australia are the two countries with the most stringent control of cigarette distribution.
He said he received a complaint from tobacco growers and Cured Tobacco Association representatives who said growers in more than 30 provinces, mainly in the North and Northeast, will be jobless if the tough law is enforced.
Mr Thanusak said plain cigarette packets will make it easier for imitation and it will lead to an influx of fake cigarettes in the local market, adding that the bill, if passed, will affected tobacco growers, cured tobacco traders and other related businesses which contribute an annual revenue of Bt50-60 billion to the country.
When the Southeast Asian becomes the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, he added, cigarettes and tobacco products from neighbouring countries, especially China will easily flow into Thailand.
“If Thailand stops growing and manufacturing cigarettes, neighbouring countries will dump their cigarettes here,” he said.
He said tobacco growers were not given the chance to share their views in an already-organised referendum.
The Public Health Ministry is spearheading the drafting of the new tobacco bill and the Excise Tax Department under the Finance Ministry shares in the drafting process.
Mr Thanusak insisted that the Finance Ministry, not the Excise Tax Department alone, should have its representatives in the drafting committee.
Torsak Chotemongkol, director of Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (TTM), said the current tobacco law is tough enough while the number of smokers has decreased by 1-2 per cent every year.
Future measures should not affect tobacco growers, he said, adding that Thailand’s tobacco leaf is the best in the region and TTM must increase production for distribution in neighboring countries in time for the 2015 AEC.