Thank you for not smoking

smokingMost Vietnamese people weren’t too enthusiastic when they heard the news that a smoking ban was on its way and you probably would not have noticed but it did actually take effect on May 1.

You may not also know that there is a long-time law against kids smoking aged under 18 and that cigarette advertisements are banned; laws that are rarely enforced and one of the reasons why many skeptics sniffed at the government’s plan to try and clean up the nation’s health and public areas once and for all.

You can’t blame this indifference to what seems like an applaudable effort to cut down the number of smokers in this cigarette-obsessed nation.

They have heard it all before many times.

Most recently, a 2009 government decree banning smoking in public places was ignored with smoking in public still widespread and teenagers able to buy cigarettes at every shop nationwide.

Enforcement was also weak with only 10 people fined for smoking in non-smoking areas in the province of Lào Cai, for example, since that ban was enforced.

Being a non-smoker myself I have some comforting news for cancer-stick addicts in that they need not be alarmed even if they feel they are being ushered out a side door for a quick smoke from their workplace or public building.

Smoking bans worldwide have occurred with little fuss despite the widespread hysteria in the build-up, and smokers’ fears of being ostracized from society and being made to feel second-class citizens were unfounded.

My own home city of Glasgow, Scotland was in a state of panic with many pubs and restaurants fearing they would have to close if they forced their regulars to head outside for a quick fag.

However, they need not have got themselves into a pickle as creative landlords abided by the stringent regulations by extending their premises to include a small shelter for smokers to congregate outside, which protects them from the constant rain in Scotland but not the bitter cold that cannot be helped.

Smokers tried to concentrate on the positives with some even saying that they met more interesting people standing in the smoking areas than they did inside the bars.

San Francisco, New York, London and even Glasgow adapted and there is no reason why Hồ Chí Minh City and the rest of Việt Nam can’t follow suit.

However, law enforcement agencies are still waiting for government guidance on how to implement the law, which was also a problem in the past.

The new regulation states that every cigarette packet has to have a warning image which is 50 per cent of the surface area and each firm has 6-10 months to comply and produce new packs with the warnings.

Smoking is totally banned in health and education units (schools and hospitals) and other public locations while air terminals and bus stations must reserve specific spaces for smokers.

Regulating cigarette advertisements, promotion and funding will be another focus of the new law.

But cigarette vendors are just getting on with their job like before and claim they have not been informed about any changes in the smoking law.

It is about time something was done in Việt Nam as the nation has 15 million smokers, which is 16.6 per cent of citizens and the 15th highest ranking worldwide.

A recent survey showed that 70 per cent of women and half of all kids nationwide are exposed to cigarette smoke at home.

According to a recent Vietnamese health ministry report, smokers account for 48 per cent of male adults, down from 57 per cent earlier, while a mere 1.4 per cent of women now smoke compared to the previous 1.8 per cent.

However, there are still 40,000 casualties annually from cigarette-related diseases, a figure which is predicted to rise to 70,000 by 2030.

It is of course smokers’ own choice to fill their lungs with substances such as toxic chemicals, but now the days when they pass on their second-hand smoke to others without a choice hopefully are numbered.

The war to make all citizens wear motorcycle helmets was won and helped a reluctant nation save lives and the smoking ban will also eventually be won despite the macho cigarette reputation of Việt Nam.

It does seem a positive move by the government but half-hearted attempts will not suffice this time.

They have to go all the way and do not let the powerful tobacco companies put pressure on them to make concessions.

The nation’s health depends upon it.






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