Tobacco Free Initiative

#notobacco!: A strong anti-smoking advocate among the youth, Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic

When Bounyard arrived at Maha Buddhavongsa Palouang Sangha Upper Secondary School, he was warmly received by the novice monks. He is the head monk of Vatnak Temple in Vientiane and a strong advocate of anti-smoking among youth. He firmly believes in spreading his messages of anti-smoking from a religious perspective and travelled every week to schools and temples to meet with students and youth.

Head monk Bounyard at Maha Buddhavongsa Palouang Sangha Upper Secondary School
WHO/I. Tan

Five year ago, he saw a copy of the Ministry of Health newsletter that is jointly developed by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) and WHO on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to advocate against the harmful effects of smoking.

Head monk Bounyard says, “As a head monk, I feel that young novices in the temple should have access to this information, and I came up with my own phrase to teach them: ‘Smoking is bad, smoking is burning money, smoking is harmful to health, and smoking causes diseases. If you still smoke regardless, cigarettes will send you to your funeral.”

The phrase has since been integrated into the monks’ daily sutras and the activities of many temples in Vientiane. It reads like a poem in the Lao language and is extremely well recognized by the monks and novices in many temples.

“At the same time, I feel that monks and novices should not smoke within the temple compound, which is a holy place, so I started a smoke-free temple and Maha Buddhavongsa Palouang Sangha Upper Secondary School became a smoke-free school,” he explains.

Head monk Bounyard feels it is important to spread the anti-smoking message as it saves lives. He has also included messages against the use of drugs and alcohol as part of the school youth advocacy programme to advise young people against smoking, alcohol and drug use.

According to data collected by the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, many youth start smoking at a young age, at age 13–15 years. Therefore, it is necessary to have a strong advocate and mentor like head monk Bounyard to spread the anti-smoking message. His messages are well received by the community and parents, and he is proud to be able to encourage young people not to smoke and to lead healthy lives.

Novice monks gathering for the anti-smoking advocacy programme
WHO/I. Tan
WHO/I. Tan