Viet Nam - government ban fails to curb smoking in public..

January 11, 2010 - Government's decision to ban smoking in indoor public areas will be effective from January 1, 2010, but it is still unclear who will make the ban come true.

People can still be found smoking in public places, such as parks, stations and hospitals, despite a Government ban which has been in effect for a week.

Eight of 10 interviewed smokers at Saint Paul Hospital in Ha Noi said they did not know about the ban while another two said they did not care. Between blowing smoke rings, Nguyen Van Long, 43, said: "I heard about the ban, but it’s cold now and I need a smoke." Others agreed with Long and kept smoking after being informed of the ban.

Nguyen Van Quan, whose son was under treatment in the hospital’s Paediatric Department, exclaimed: "My son is in a terrible condition and I must smoke. If I can’t smoke here then where can I?"

Saint Paul Hospital is one of the thousand hospitals and health clinics that fall under the list of public places where smoking is prohibited. According to the decision, people are not allowed to smoke in public places such as schools, health clinics, cinemas, and stations.Violations of the ban can be met with a fine of VND50,000-100.000 (US$2.7-5.4).

In addition to the smokers interviewed, managers of public places also denied knowledge of the ban and were unsure how to implement it.

"There is no official demand for smoking rooms in our workplace," said Nguyen Duc Vui, head of the Gia Lam Bus Station’s monitoring committee.

Similarly, Deputy Director of the Mien Dong Bus Station in HCM City Thuong Thanh Hai said his station had banned smoking a long time ago but people had ignored the ban. "Smoking was difficult to control in the station as there were no cameras present to monitor those who violated the ban."

While the Ministry of Health was assigned with the responsibility of enforcing the ban, Nguyen Minh Hung, chief inspector of the HCM City Health Department, said: "There are too many smokers but too few inspectors," adding that "even if we mobilised all the health staff of the country, we wouldn’t have enough to enforce the ban."

Before legislating the ban, the Government and relevant agencies should have a prepared an effective implementation plan, said Nguyen Trong Hoang, deputy director of the HCM City Health Education and Communication Centre.

The ban comes at a time when, according to the Ministry of Health, Viet Nam was one of the nations with the highest rates of smokers in the world. Up to 53 per cent of mature males are estimated to be regular smokers.

Another obstacle to enforcing the ban was the unlicensed sale of cigarettes in public places. "I sell 20-25 boxes of cigarette a day and so do others," claimed Nguyen Thi Trang who runs a tea stand outside Saint Paul Hospital.

When asked, a xe om driver in Doi Can Street said: "Why and how should I stop smoking? My work requires me to travel on the road all day and I love smoking. No one should have the right to fine smokers. If people sell cigarettes in public places, how can smokers be expected to stop smoking there?" — VNS

Reference: Government ban fails to curb smoking in public, VNS, 1/8/2010.