Vietnam weighs up the cost of smoking on citizens’ health 

opinion June 04, 2018 01:00


The fact that Vietnam’s tobacco price is among the cheapest in the world is believed to have led to  widespread use that has resulted in more than 36,000 deaths a year. 

According to date from the Vietnam Tobacco Control Fund under the Ministry of Health, smoking now claims over 100 lives in Vietnam every day and the number is expected to nearly double in 2030. 

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), conducted by the ministry and the General Statistics Office in 2015, showed that 53.5 per cent of non-smokers – about 28.5 million adults – were exposed to tobacco smoke at home, and 36.8 per cent of non-smokers who worked indoors – 5.9 million adults – were exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace.

Other statistics show that almost 61 per cent of students started smoking between the ages of 7 and 13.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that non-communicable diseases contribute to 73 per cent of all deaths countrywide. Tobacco use is one of the major causes.

Medical experts said tobacco smoking is a leading factor causing an increasing risk of contracting heart-related diseases. The increase is proportional to the amount of tobacco and the smoking time.

It costs the country’s smokers a total of US$1.36 billion (about Bt44 billion) each year. In addition to the cost of smoking, the total cost of treatment and damage due to illness and premature death for five groups – lung cancer, gastrointestinal-respiratory cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, and stroke – caused by smoking costs over $1 billion per year.

According to the United States’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking during pregnancy causes additional health problems, including premature birth, certain birth defects, and infant death.

Smoking makes it harder for a woman to get pregnant. Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than other women to have a miscarriage. Smoking can cause problems with the placenta – the source of the baby’s food and oxygen during pregnancy. For example, the placenta can separate from the womb too early, causing bleeding, which is dangerous to the mother and baby.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born too early or to have low birth weight – making it more likely the baby will be sick and have to stay in hospital longer. A few of these babies may even die.

Smoking during and after pregnancy is a risk factor of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Babies born to women who smoke are more likely to have certain birth defects such as cleft palate.

Vietnam is among the cheapest 15 countries in which to buy tobacco, with a pack of cigarettes ranging from 24 to 88 US cents.

Experts believe the low price of tobacco products is the main cause leading to its widespread use.

The tax on tobacco products is quite low compared to other countries, at about 35-40 per cent of retail price while the world average rate is 56 per cent. It is much lower than the WHO’s suggested 70 per cent.

Consumption tax

In response to the situation, the Ministry of Finance proposed two plans to raise tax on tobacco at a meeting held early May.

The first plan is to collect the special consumption tax of 4 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes and 44 cents per cigar from 2020. In the second plan, the special consumption tax will increase from 75 per cent to 80 per cent in 2020 and 85 per cent in 2021.

However, many experts said the rate is still low. They suggest that the additional charge should be 11-22 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes.

Phan Thi Hai, deputy director of the Tobacco Consequences Prevention Fund under the Ministry of Health, said the ministry agreed with the suggested additional charge.

Dao The Son, a lecturer at Hanoi’s Commercial University, said by increasing tax to 22 cents per cigarette pack, Vietnam could stop 1.8 million people from smoking, prevent 900,000 smoking-related early deaths and earn $470 million for the State budget each year.

In addition to raising tobacco tax to reduce the number of smokers, authorised agencies have launched supporting programmes to help smokers in quitting tobacco. For example, Hanoi-based Bach Mai Hospital and Ho Chi Minh City-based Gia Dinh Hospital have run hotlines to give advice for thousands of smokers in an attempt to quit tobacco.

The programmes, which have run for several years, have shown initial positive results.