One of the most urgent requirements of public health is to protect people from the risks of smoking as tobacco-related diseases claim more than 40,000 lives in Vietnam every year.
There are five major diseases of the 25 tobacco-related illnesses lung cancer, gastrointestinal-respiratory cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Vietnamese people spend VND31 trillion on tobacco products each year, while the total cost for the treatment of these diseases and losses to businesses from illness and early death in the workforce caused by those five major groups of diseases has reached VND24 trillion per year. One of the main causes for the high rate of smokers and the slow reduction in numbers is the cheap price of tobacco, even getting cheaper and cheaper when compared to citizens’ incomes. A pack of cigarettes is priced at around VND20,000.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Vietnam is among the 15 countries in the world’s lowest prices for tobacco products.
Correspondingly, according to a survey of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) in 2015, Vietnam was also listed among the 15 countries with the highest number of smokers with some 45.3% of men being regular smokers.
Globally, smoking kills more than 7 million people every year, including 900,000 deaths by diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Nearly 80% of the more than 1 billion smokers are living in low and middle income countries. Smoking is the second biggest cause of cardiovascular diseases and 30% of people who die of the diseases have been exposed to secondhand smoke.
Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the Medical Examination and Treatment Department, says despite a reduction, the percentage of adult males who smoke remains high at 45.3%. The rate of people who are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places such as restaurants and pubs is also high while smokers find it very easy to buy cigarettes, which are sold widely at cheap prices. Violations of the ban on tobacco advertisements at points of sale also causes difficulties in the effort to curb smoking.
Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien has underlined urgent need to prevent tobacco-related diseases as citing deaths by non-communicable diseases in the country hold 73% of total fatalities with the high rate of smokers being seen as one of the major causes.
In addition to health losses, smoking also places an economic burden on smokers, their families and the whole society, she notes.
Mr Khue points out that Vietnam’s special consumption tax on cigarettes is nearly the lowest in ASEAN and very low compared to other developed countries.
The WHO warns that to reduce the number of smokers, special consumption tax should account for 60-80% of the retail price. Low taxes will lead to low retail prices, resulting in easy availability to youngsters and the poor and reducing the efficacy of the efforts to control smoking and related diseases.
Kidong Park, WHO chief representative in Vietnam, proposes raising cigarette taxes to higher rates, as both prices and taxes are lower than in most other countries.
Mr Khue emphasizes that there should be strictly enforced regulations on the smoking ban in public places in tandem with intensified communications activities and supervision in order to change smokers’ behaviour, in particular males in rural areas.