Vietnam has one of the highest smoking rates in the world — an acknowledgment it shouldn’t be proud of.
American news portal HuffPost wrote in 2017 tagged Vietnam’s smoking addiction as an “epidemic,” noting that more than one in four Vietnamese smoke regularly. With lung cancer considered the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country, about 10% of the Vietnamese population will have died from smoking-related diseases by 2030.
While smoking is usually banned indoors, it’s easy to spot Vietnamese smoking on sidewalks or in outdoor cafes. Data from The Union reveal that 56% of men and roughly 2% of women over the age of 15 use tobacco. Of Vietnam’s smokers, 75.9% consume at least half a pack daily, and 37.6% go through an entire pack. And by the age of 18, it’s already become a daily habit.
Tobacco smoke contains high levels of carbon monoxide, which affects the heart by reducing the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. Tobacco smoke also contains high levels of nicotine, which causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. With this dual effect, people who use tobacco are more likely to have heart attacks, high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes, hemorrhages, aneurysms, and other disorders of the cardiovascular system.
Relevant government agencies and private health institutions have, in recent years, implemented programs to limit tobacco use in the country — from stringent tobacco tax and price measures to health warnings and public awareness campaigns.
However, a recent conference led by the Ministry of Information and Communication this week found that the rate of tobacco use in Vietnam remains high. The ministry said the Vietnamese spend nearly $2 billion (VND 49 trillion) annually on tobacco. The amount has significantly increased from $1.4 billion in 2018 – proof that Vietnam’s tobacco problem is getting worse every year.
The accessibility and affordability of tobacco and the lack of awareness of the impact of smoking are considered primary reasons for the prevalence of smoking, even among the young. Tobacco prices in Vietnam are seen to be getting cheaper when compared to per capita income.
Dr. Nguyen Tuan Lam of the World Health Organization Vietnam recommends “maintaining and strengthening existing legal regulations on banning the import and sale of new tobacco products to minimize their use among youth,” as reported by Vietnam News.
The Ministry of Health, meanwhile, proposed banning all new tobacco products altogether, following the strategies of other countries. In 2004, Bhutan became the first country to completely outlaw the cultivation, harvesting, production, and sale of tobacco products.
Tobacco Control Law has been in effect in Vietnam since 2013, forcing workplaces and indoor public spaces to implement a “no smoking” policy strictly. However, enforcement of the law is still poor even up to this day.
Aside from tobacco, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes and new-generation tobacco products poses an additional challenge to the government’s campaign against smoking. Dr. Angela Pratt, WHO representative in Vietnam, said these products are “unsafe for health because they contain high levels of nicotine and addictive substances.”
WHO said it would continue working to steer Vietnam’s future generations away from smoking addiction.