Weak tobacco taxes keeping smoking prevalence high in Vietnam

Weak anti-tobacco policies and programs, and in particular tax and pricing regimes friendly to the tobacco industry, are failing to curb tobacco use in Vietnam, the recent study ‘Tobacco taxation in Vietnam’ shows.


‘Vietnam continues to see alarmingly high rates of smoking incidence among men—as high as 65 percent among men aged 25 to 45 years—as a result of government’s failure to adopt more progressive tobacco tax structures as recommended by health experts and the World Bank,’ G. Emmanuel Guindon from the Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, one of the authors said. 

During a tax workshop today, organized by the Hanoi School of Public Health, Vietnam Committee on Smoking and Health (VINACOSH) and the World Health Organization in Vietnam, Other key findings, as presented by Mr. Guindon are: 

·     Vietnam faces a high burden from non- communicable diseases (NCDs), which now account for the largest share of mortality and morbidity. 2006 estimates suggest that smoking prevalence among men in Vietnam exceeds 49 percent, and is even higher among younger men aged 25-45 years at about 65 percent. Although smoking rates are low among women, at less than 2 percent, women, as well as children are exposed to the hazards of secondhand smoke.

·     Despite evidence that higher prices for tobacco products reduce tobacco use and boost tax revenues, the price of tobacco products (in real terms) in Vietnam has not increased between 1995 and 2006. A pack of popular brand Vinataba has even become cheaper 10 years later.

·     Tobacco taxes in Vietnam currently account for at most 45 percent of the tax- inclusive retail sale price of cigarettes, well below the 65–80 percent rate noted by the World Bank in countries with effective tobacco control policies.

·     Tobacco control policies such as tax increases are unlikely to have a significant negative impact on employment in the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industries, which account for only a very small share of total employment in Vietnam — about 0.3 percent of all jobs.

·      Vietnam must impose annual increases to its special consumption tax so that prices of tobacco products increase by at least, and preferably in excess of, the rate of growth of the Vietnamese economy, and should introduce a high specific tax that is indexed to inflation.

Sharing ASEAN’s experience on tax increases, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Director, Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee said ‘Tobacco Taxation is the most effective among tobacco control measures.  Increasing tobacco taxes can induce quitting, greatly reduce cigarette consumption, and most importantly, prevent non-smokers from even starting.’ 

‘In other ASEAN countries such as Thailand, which has increased tobacco taxes eight times from 1994-2007, smoking prevalence among young smokers and the poorest sector decreased more than 50 percent.  Singapore’s smoking prevalence among the ages 18 to 69 years decreased by almost 6 percent from 1992-2005, with a 10 percent tax increase,’ she adds. 

The recently approved SEATCA-South East Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax (SITT), a 5-year project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will support ASEAN governments in strengthening their tobacco tax systems, and hopes to see significant tax increases by 2014.

 Others in attendance during the workshop were local tobacco control advocates and civil societies, the World Bank, Ministries of Health and Finance of Vietnam, as well as other officials from government.

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