A child can still buy a pack of cigarettes on the street in Vietnam even though a law on preventing the damaging effects of cigarettes took effect as of this month.
Teenagers smoke publicly on streets even though the law bans smoking by those under 18.
The anti-smoking law came into effect on May 1, but law enforcement agencies are still waiting for guidance on how to implement the law.
Vietnamese authorities have made great effort in the past to link a smoking ban with law, but the implementation of the law faces many hurdles.
The latest law has taken effect, but it seems that it only exists on paper. According to the new regulation, a packet of cigarettes is supposed to have a warning image, not just words like “smoking can cause lung cancer” as before, that accounts for at least 50 percent of the surface area.
Smoking is totally banned in health and education units as well. Other public locations such as air terminals and bus stations must have specific spaces for smokers only.
However, many cigarette vendors said they have not been informed of any change in regulations and are doing their job just like before.
At a tea and lemon juice parlor on Nguyen Thai Son Street in Go Vap District on the night of May 1, a group of students aged 14-15 puffed on cigarettes while joking with one another.
“It’s OK for a fine but it’s shameful to be named at school,” one of them admitted.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong, the owner of a cigarette stand on Phan Dang Luu Street in Binh Thanh District, told Tuoi Tre that she refuses to sell cigarettes to minors based only on their appearance.
“Cigarette seller can’t ask for a buyers’ ID, and sometimes a child comes to me to buy cigarettes for adults”, she added.
Currently Vietnam has 15 million smokers, ranking 15th in the world and third in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia and the Philippines. A survey on smoking in Vietnam in 2010 showed that 70 percent of women and 50 percent of children are exposed to cigarette smoke at home.
How to implement the law?
Takeshi Kasai, chief representative of the World Health Organization in Vietnam, hailed Vietnam for its efforts in curbing smoking. Vietnam is the fifth nation in Southeast Asia to strongly cooperate with local media on anti-smoking.
The Ministry of Health recently held a conference in Hanoi to implement the law. Inspectors of provincial health departments and the health ministry are authorized to fine violating smokers.
Nguyen Huy Quang, chief of the legal department of the health ministry, admitted that health inspectors are few in number, but no country enforces such a rule perfectly. The main job is to penalize to set an example and educate.
As for the printing of graphic images on cigarette packs to warn smokers, Vietnam National Tobacco Corporation (Vinataba) general director Tran Son Chau said cigarette firms have 6-10 months from May 1 to bring in new packs with the warning images.
In developed nations, a cigarette buyer older than 18 swipes a card similar to ID card on a machine to buy cigarettes, but Vietnam relies on the self awareness of relevant people, Quang said.
Though cigarette advertisements in any form are banned in Vietnam, cigarette firms violate the law by displaying cigarette logos on souvenirs, banners, and on the signboards of restaurants.
A survey of 1,500 cigarette shops belonging to Public Health Universities in Vietnam from 2009-2011 showed a disappointing result – 95 percent infringed on display regulations.
Though the rate of smokers in Vietnam has fallen from 57 percent of men to 48 percent and 1.8 percent of women to 1.4 percent, the death toll from cigarette-related diseases is still as high as 40,000 a year. It is forecast that the death toll may surge to 70,000 by 2030.
According to the law on preventing the damaging effects of cigarettes, a fund for preventing ill effects will be established this year with a working budget of VND200 billion (US$9.6 million) for the first year. The sum is equal to a percent of the total value of cigarettes locally produced and imported in Vietnam. The fund is expected to be created in 2-3 months and begin functioning smoothly in 5-6 months.