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Expats’ take on young Vietnamese’s drinking, smoking habits

Thursday, March 10, 2016, 21:24 GMT+7

A number of expats have shared their thoughts with Tuoi Tre News after a recent national report called young Vietnamese unfit and said they smoke a lot while also downing loads of alcohol.

The report was released on March 2 at a conference in Hanoi on sharing international experience in youth development.

The event was co-hosted by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund in Vietnam.

According to the national report, as of 2014 there were over 25 million Vietnamese citizens between 16 and 30 years old, representing 27.7 percent of the country’s total population.

In terms of physical fitness, the average height of male Vietnamese youths is 164.4cm, 13cm lower than the global average, while that of female youths is 153.4cm, 10cm lower than the world average.

These numbers show that young Vietnamese are falling behind their peers in the region when it comes to height, with Japanese and South Korean youths surpassing them by 8cm, Chinese youths by 7cm, and Thai and Singaporean youths by 5-6cm.

Statistics in the report also indicated poor performance by young Vietnamese in terms of physical attributes, especially stamina and strength, in comparison to the world average.

The report identified the shortcomings of the previous surveys on youths’ risky behaviors including smoking and drinking, saying the surveys were conducted only on a relatively small sample using interview or self-assessment forms, meaning currently available statistics may not accurately represent the reality among Vietnamese youths.

The figures showed however that a reasonably high percentage of Vietnamese youths smoke or drink, despite several programs aimed at limiting the community’s consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

‘Mot, hai, ba, yo!’

Living in Vietnam for more than a year, I often see young men in particular smoking. Maybe it’s because people do not have enough health awareness. In any case, the cost of cigarettes here is ridiculously cheap. In Australia a packet of 25 cigarettes would cost US$20, here it's just $1.

Also, people seem to deliberately drink to get drunk. It's the culture of “mot, hai, ba, yo!” (One, two, three, cheers!), and out of respect, people drink up. The beer club culture attracts a lot of young people too. I've travelled the world and never have I seen bars or clubs with dedicated vomit sinks like they have in Vietnam.

There seem to be a lot of street drinking restaurants here too, so I think it is part of the culture: coffee and cafés by day, beer clubs and beer restaurants by night.

When I binge drink, I usually drink for hours (8:00 pm to 4:00 am). It's over a long period of time. The Vietnamese seem to drink just as much in a lot shorter time. I can only imagine their hangovers.

In Australia, smoking is beginning to decrease amongst the younger generation because it’s too expensive, and major cancer campaigns have been effective. Drinking is still common, but taxes on alcohol are high on things like alco-pops (flavoured alcoholic drinks).

The alcohol laws in Australia are also strict. There are certain laws in certain states that prohibit the consumption of alcohol. For example in New South Wales, you cannot just order alcohol at a restaurant, you must also buy food. The number of patrons in a venue or drinking outside the venue is also limited. If there are a certain number of people drinking in a venue then a hired security guard is required by law.

Alcohol cannot be bought at a supermarket either, only in a liquor store. There are also extremely harsh penalties for drinking and driving. If people get caught they will lose their license, be fined and possibly thrown in prison, depending on how much over the limit they are.

            Craig Nock, Australian

Solution: high tax on smoking, strict regulation on drinking

It seems that smoking and alcohol consumption in Vietnam are higher than in Japan. I think education is most important. All Japanese people "understand" the harmful effects of smoking. (It is much different from "knowledge").

Japanese cigarette prices are higher than those of Vietnam. The tax rate is 63 percent. A lot of friends of mine wanted to stop smoking when the tax rate increased. So it seems that cigarette price works as a means to stop or reduce smoking.

In terms of drinking, the rule became strict more than 30 years ago. When a policeman finds a car or motorbike driver driving whilst drunk, the driver has to pay a penalty of JPY1 million (close to ten thousand U.S. dollars). Moreover, if the restaurant or bar is aware that the customer came by car, and that they left by car, the restaurant has to pay a penalty as well. It is a very strict rule, but it works to stop drinking and reduce drunk driving accidents.

Also, a part of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture have set the following rules:

- All restaurants must set aside a smoking room.

- Smoking is prohibited while walking.

Almost all restaurants have dissenting opinions on this. However, I think these regulations are effective in changing people's mind about smoking and drinking.

Hirate Yosuke, Japanese

Nothing is stronger than self-awareness

I think there are many factors that influence the habits of youngsters. Firstly, it’s the influence of local culture and family education. Advertisements of cigarette and alcohol products come from films, music videos and everywhere else. We are bombarded with continuous references to a drinking and smoking lifestyle with the illusion that nothing can damage our health. However, I think nothing is stronger than our self-awareness and there are no excuses. I started doing sports at the age of 11 and realized that there is always an active mind in a healthy body.

It is better to teach people what is good for their health. People who drink and use drugs know that these are dangerous but are unaware of anything else that can make them feel better.

Alessandro Corradi, 25, Italian

Alcohol only a kind of beverage

I came to Vietnam four years ago and was shocked to see my Vietnamese friends drink. They have a very different drinking culture compared to us. People who show up late have to drink more. They explained to me that was one of the rules of the table. In France, we also drink but in a more “friendly” way. I mean, alcohol is only a beverage. The most important thing is the time we share together with friends. My friends and I go to bars on the weekend but we enjoy chitchatting more than drinking. Alcohol can add something more to the ambiance of our party, but it’s not the whole thing. No one wants to leave the show with messy clothes and forget everything the next morning.

Exercise is good. You should choose a sport to play. Whatever you want or like because it helps eliminate the toxins after drinking. Ask your friends to go with you so it will be more fun.

Martin Bernard, 27, French

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