Smoking in Vietnam - What to Know Before Lighting that Bud

Vietnam’s influential smoking culture has bagged it a spot among the world’s top smoker-friendly countries. Smoking is prevalent in Vietnam - so much so that it is an integral part of the country’s culture. Exchanging cigarettes is the Vietnamese equivalent of a handshake. As the government actively seeks to put a stop to the smoking menace, let us take a look at Vietnam’s Tobacco Laws, modern-day perceptions and smoke-free zones in the country.

Prevalence of Tobacco Smoking in Vietnam

Cigarettes are cheap and very easy to find. Cigarette packs are widely sold on every street corner and small shops. In major cities like Ho Chi Minh City, cigarettes are available at all convenience stores, restaurants, cafes and vendor stalls. An estimated 50% of men and 5% of women indulging in tobacco. Recent statistics show 18 million smokers against 47 million non-smokers who are also exposed to tobacco smoke regularly.

Repercussions of Smoking 

According to Vietnam’s Health Education and Communication Centre, tobacco smoke (firsthand as well as secondhand) claims around 40,000 lives every year, which boils down to more than 100 deaths in a single day. The Centre also estimates that 10% of the country’s population will have died by 2030 if the situation does not improve.

Thuoc Lao - Traditional Vietnamese Tobacco

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Thuoc Lao is a popular, historical form of smoking in Vietnam. The extremely potent leaves of Thuoc Lao or Nicotiana Rustica form the main ingredient in this Vietnamese tobacco. Thuoc Lao translates to ‘drug from Laos’. It can be either chewed or smoked through a water pipe. The “high” of this Vietnamese tobacco is said to last for several seconds, along with extreme dizziness. Nausea is a widespread side effect of smoking Thuoc Lao. The popularity of this traditional Vietnamese tobacco has plummeted in recent times owing to its serious health risks. It is considered to be more dangerous than regular cigarettes, and there have been several instances of sudden respiratory failure and individuals choking to death. However, Thuoc Lao remains popular among the minority and rural groups settled in Central and North Vietnam.

The Vietnamese Smoking Perception

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Smoking is a part of the Vietnamese culture. Exchanging cigarettes is a common form of greeting. Numerous Vietnamese historical figures were known to be smokers. Smoking is perceived as a sign of being cultured, especially among the youth. Those who smoke are looked at as being manly and educated. 

Where Is it Allowed? 

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  • Travellers are free to smoke anywhere in the countryside.
  • However, in the urban regions of the country, people are becoming increasingly aware of the hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke.
  • Usually, unventilated spaces and public areas are considered to be smoke-free zones.
  • Individual smoking rooms are available in most establishments like hotels, airports and universities. Restaurants and bars are usually open-air areas and are smoker-friendly.

Prohibited Areas in Vietnam

  • Smoking is completely banned in the entire outdoor and indoor premises of gas stations, hospitals, kids zones and public transport facilities.
  • Educational facilities like universities and colleges prohibit smoking only in indoor areas.
  • These restrictions aim to prevent fires and increase overall public health.
  • There are strict fines and penalties in place if you light a cigarette in any of these spaces.
  • Most of the airports do not allow smoking.
  • There are designated smoking rooms within the airports for those who wish to indulge in tobacco. 

Vietnamese Smoking Regulations and Laws 

  1. The legislation regarding the sale of tobacco products in Vietnam is not regulated like in other countries. Hence, cigarettes are widely sold across all kinds of stores.
  2. However, the advertising and promotion of tobacco products are prohibited, except for the point of sale displays on the products.
  3. There are specific laws in place for the packaging and labelling of tobacco products as well.
  4. Health warnings are supposed to cover 50% of the front and back of the outside package.
  5. There are no laws in place to regulate the contents of cigarettes.
  6. The sale of tobacco products through vending machines is prohibited.
  7. It is also against the law to sell tobacco products on the internet.
  8. The legal age to smoke is 18 in Vietnam.
  9. It is illegal for those below 18 to buy or sell tobacco products as well.
  10. E-cigarettes or vapes are legal in Vietnam.
  11. Moreover, there are no restrictions on the advertising, promotion, sale and packaging of e-cigarettes.

Penalties for Violations

In case you violate any of Vietnam’s regulations on public smoking, you will have to pay a fine ranging between VND 100,000 and VND 300,000. 

Government Measures to Curb Smoking in Vietnam

In an attempt to control the smoking epidemic in the country, Vietnam has ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It now makes them obliged to take steps towards lowering the supply of and demand for tobacco products. Their responsibilities also include banning tobacco advertisements and sponsorships,  protecting people from exposure to harmful tobacco smoke, requiring health warnings on tobacco packaging and even increasing tobacco taxes. In 2013, Vietnam had also launched the National Strategy on Tobacco Control that aims to decrease smoking among adolescents and youths. The Government has also implemented a tax and price measure that curbs the demand for tobacco. 

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The ease of availability of cigarettes along with the Vietnamese people’s positive perception towards smoking will be hard to fight. Despite the hurdles and the influential smoking culture, the Vietnam government is launching initiatives towards improving public health. They still have a long way to go, and till then, smoking is going to be as widespread. All in all, smokers are usually welcomed in Vietnam when compared to other parts of the world.

This post was published by Ruthvi Reddy

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