Talk Around Town
by Van Nguyen
My Croatian roommate in the US used to go out-side to smoke, no matter what the temperature or weather conditions.
Having become accustomed to secondhand smoke in Viet Nam, I told her that she could smoke inside the house, because I didn’t want her to catch a cold. She, aware of the dangers of her habit, thought I was crazy.
Back home again, sharing confined public spaces with smokers has been one of the hardest things to get used to. People get away with smoking anywhere they like. Even drivers light up in taxis, regardless of the big red “No Smoking” sign or the fact that there are children aboard. Workers smoke in air-conditioned offices. In bars and restaurants, men and young women don’t seem to care that they are exhaling right into your face.
Speak up and you’ll receive a strange stare.
Five years ago the Vietnamese Government launched a national tobacco control programme for the 2000-2010 period. So far, the results have been disappointing, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has continued to warn Viet Nam about its high smoking rate.
At a meeting in Ha Noi last month that focused on Viet Nam’s anti-smoking efforts, a WHO representative said that more and more young adults were becoming addicted to smoking, while not many have been successful in giving it up.
The most recent national health survey carried out in 2002 found that some 56 per cent of adult men and 1.8 per cent of adult women in Viet Nam were smokers. A number of those smokers were children under 15.
According to WHO, many students consider smoking a way to socialise with their friends. Meanwhile, in rural areas, the traditional practise of offering cigarettes to young people at wedding or funeral feasts has been encouraging them to take up the habit.
“We are seeing the impact of tobacco company advertisements that portray smoking as manly and glamorous,” said WHO in its 2003 preliminary report on youth tobacco use in Viet Nam.
The open and easy access to tobacco is another obstacle for the success of the national anti-smoking programme, despite a Government ban on the sale of cigarettes to minors, according to the WHO report.
The inverse is true in America, where my 30-year-old roommate had to show ID each time she wanted to buy a pack of Camel Lights. Here anyone can buy as many cigarettes as he or she wants without being asked a question.
The fact that one can buy 20 hassle-free cigarettes for VND3,000 (US$0.15) makes it hard to prevent people from starting and maintaining an addiction.
WHO has said that one of the most effective tools to curb smoking is to raise the tax on cigarettes.
Even though 2000’s Vietnamese Government Decree No.12 declared cigarettes a toxic commodity and stipulated that taxes on such hazardous products be set higher, relevant ministries have not enforced it.
At the moment, cigarette taxes are broken down into a special consumption tax, corporate income tax, value-added tax and material import tax, which account for 25 per cent of the retail price for unfiltered cigarettes, 34 per cent for those filtered with local materials, and 44 per cent for those filtered with imported materials.
These rates are much lower than WHO’s recommended rate of 66.6 per cent on all cigarettes and much lower than Thailand’s or Singapore’s.
The Economist Intelligence Unit, a market research company, reported that of 69 countries the company had investigated, Viet Nam was one of the cheapest markets for cigarettes.
Hoang Van Kinh, a lecturer on the International Trade Faculty at the Ha Noi Trade University carried out a study on the impact of tax on smoking with his associates. Their research determined that if the tax on retail cigarettes were increased 10 per cent, market demand would decrease such that 1,000 people could be saved from smoking-related deaths a year. The study went on to say that if the tax were doubled, between 5,000 and 10,000 smoking fatalities could be prevented annually.
Taking up smoking is easy, and everyone knows that quitting is torturous. No matter how badly my Croatian roommate wanted to quit smoking, improve her health and save money, she failed after three attempts during the year we lived together.
To prevent more Vietnamese young adults from becoming addicted to this harmful and costly habit, perhaps the Vietnamese Government should be more determined to take serious and comprehensive actions across the country. — VNS
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