Vendors still violating cigarette ad ban Last update, 01/05/10

Violations of the tobacco advertising and promotions ban are so wide-spread in Viet Nam that virtually all cigarette vendors in the country have ignored the current regulations, a study has found.

Cigarette ban ignored Tobacco production, from forbidden to conditional WHO urges higher cigarette tax Research by the Ha Noi School of Public Health (HSPH) released on Tuesday showed that around 95 per cent of the tobacco merchants surveyed had disregarded the national ordinance banning any form of cigarette advertisements and promotions. Smoking has been banned in public places since January 1.

 The study, which looked at 1,500 cigarette vendors in 10 major cities and provinces throughout the country late last year, found that the most common violation was displays of more than one pack or one carton of a particular brand. More than 91 per cent of the vendors surveyed broke this rule. Another common violation was offering sale prices for cigarettes and giving packs of less than 20 cigarettes away for free, found the survey, which was done with technical assistance from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and financial support from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Violations in main public places and street sides, however, were almost non-existent, according to the study.

Results were released at a conference in Ha Noi held to review implementation of the regulations prohibiting cigarette advertisements, promotions and cigarette-related sponsorship in Viet Nam. “The rate of violations is high in places that sell cigarettes,” said Dr Tran Thi Tuyet Hanh from the HSPH, who provided an example of HCM City-based Craven Cafe, which gave away free cigarettes to customers. The ban was originally introduced in the 1990s and went through further revisions in 2005. Specific rules banning cigarette advertising were added in 2008.

The research, conducted in four northern, three central and three southern localities, including HCM City, was designed to review and collect data about enforcement of the circular, and to discover methods used by the cigarette industry to evade the rules. Cigarette companies have managed to promote and advertise their products by sponsoring football clubs, music and performance shows, building charity houses, providing financial assistance to flood victims and tobacco farmers, and giving scholarships to poor and disadvantaged students, according to the survey. “Enforcing the ban in Viet Nam has been difficult because people don’t realise cigarette ads have been banned,” said Hanh. “Inspection has been too weak and the punishment limited, focused mostly on wholesalers.” Tobacco companies had taken full advantage of loopholes in the regulations to advertise and promote their products with eye-catching and colourful packaging, display boxes and posters, said Hanh. According to statistics on tobacco taxation in Viet Nam released last month, the price of cigarettes is lower here than in other countries.

A similar study done in 2005 showed that VND14 trillion (nearly US$737 million) was spent on cigarettes each year, and medical spending relating to cancer, heart and lung diseases, the three most popular smoking-related diseases, reached quadrillions of dong. The highest tax rate in Viet Nam is 45 per cent, compared to those ranging from 65-80 per cent in countries with effective tobacco control policies. Smoking has been banned in public places since January 1, including in classrooms, pre-schools, health centres, libraries, cinemas, theatres, factories, office buildings and public transportation. “Viet Nam is among the top 15 countries in the world in terms of the highest percentage of smokers, coming in at 56 per cent of the population,” said Dr Luong Ngoc Khue, director of the MoH’s Administration of Medical Examination and Treatment, at Tuesday’s conference.

Around 40,000 people die of smoking-related diseases each year, which is four times the number of deaths from road accidents, according to Khue. Last August, Viet Nam approved an implementation plan for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was ratified by the country. Plans include a roadmap to impose increased taxes and prices for tobacco products to reduce the number of smokers and the overall burden smoking-related diseases have on society. Experts and participants at the conference all agreed with adding specific regulations for a comprehensive ban on cigarette advertisements, promotions and sponsorships in the Draft Law on Preventing Tobacco-Related Harm. The draft bill has been discussed many times at National Assembly meetings and is expected to be submitted for approval at the NA’s 7th session in May. “The draft law should clearly regulate a total ban on cigarette promotion activities such as using eye-catching colours and product designs, displaying cigarette boxes and sharing brands,” said Hanh. VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

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