HANOI, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam is ranked among 15 countries globally with the largest numbers of adult male smokers mainly due to easy access to cigarettes and the prevalence of e-cigarettes, the Vietnam News newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Current smoking among Vietnamese men has declined to 42.3 percent from 45.3 percent in 2015. But the male smoking rate remained below the target of 39 percent set out in the National Strategy on Tobacco Control, said Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the Health Ministry's Department of Medical Service Administration.
Vietnam has managed to reduce the number of smokers by 0.8 percent in 2022 from 2015, thus preventing 280,000 premature deaths from diseases related to tobacco use, and saving about 1.277 trillion Vietnamese dong (54.4 million U.S. dollars) each year between 2015 and 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
But Vietnam is still ranked third among Southeast Asian countries with the highest smoking rates, only after Indonesia and the Philippines, according to the Health Ministry.
Health officials cited low cost as a major reason behind smoking, saying that Vietnam's tobacco tax is among the lowest in Southeast Asia, only higher than Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
The Vietnamese government is considering an increase in excise rates on tobacco products to boost cigarette prices in efforts to reduce the public consumption of cigarettes.
Cigarette tax rate in Vietnam is 35.6 percent of retail prices compared to the world average of 56 percent and the WHO recommendation of 70 percent.
WHO Representative Angela Pratt suggested that higher taxes should be the quickest and most efficient solution to the problem.
Vietnam is now faced with additional challenges in its fight against smoking as the prevalence of e-cigarette use among Vietnamese teens has increased in recent years. Among teens aged 13 to 15, 3.5 percent were reported to use e-cigarettes last year, up from 2.6 percent in 2019, according to a report by the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Education and Training.
The authorities have also reported about 7 in 100 people aged between 15 and 24 use e-cigarettes.
Besides, nearly 34.5 million non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoking at home, as well as in public areas like restaurants, cafes/bars, hospitals, schools and workplaces, said the WHO, estimating about 40,000 people in Vietnam die each year from smoking-related diseases.
Nguyen Thi An, head of the Vietnam office of HealthBridge Canada, underlined tobacco harms to public health, especially children.
She pointed out that the total treatment costs and expenses from the loss of working capacity due to illnesses and premature deaths from 5 out of the 25 groups of diseases caused by smoking was 24 trillion Vietnamese dong (1 billion U.S. dollars), and meanwhile Vietnamese people spend nearly 49 trillion Vietnamese dong (2 billion dollars) annually on tobacco.
Smoking households spend significantly less income in education and healthcare, she added.
The expert suggested Vietnamese authorities strengthen the enforcement of tobacco-related laws, step up inspection and examination to strictly deal with violations in tobacco use, advertising, promotion, sponsorship, and trading, and raise the special consumption tax on tobacco.
The Vietnamese government should also impose a ban on all new-generation tobacco products including e-cigarettes while promoting public awareness of tobacco harm and protecting children against second-hand smoking, according to her. ■