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How much do people smoke in Vietnam?

Sunday, March 15, 2020, 10:03 GMT+7
How much do people smoke in Vietnam?
A man smokes while driving on Hoang Van Thu Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Editor's note: A number of foreigners living in Vietnam have offered their opinions on smoking habits in Vietnam, as well as suggestions on how to curb smoking in prohibited areas, following a request from Tuoi Tre News.  

The following comments have been edited by Tuoi Tre News for better clarity, consistency, and coherence.

A 'smoking-friendly' country

Before coming to Vietnam I chose to research on the Internet whether cities in Vietnam are polluted and what the local behavior is. Surprisingly, I read that Vietnam is a smoking-friendly country and a lot of Vietnamese smoke.

I've been living in the southern province of Tra Vinh for a month, however I have not seen too many people smoking here. Those I do see are mostly men in their forties and fifties who seem to enjoy smoking while talking to their friends on the sidewalk. I saw more people smoking at the airport in Saigon when I arrived than I have seen in a whole month here in Tra Vinh. I assume there are more smokers in bigger cities.

I think non-smokers shouldn't have to endure smelling and breathing second-hand smoke when we go out. People's health is already considerably affected by car and motorbike pollution, there's no need to add another carcinogen to the list, especially when such a huge number of people dying from lung cancer each year.

As for smoking in prohibited places, I assume it’s mostly due to a combination of minimal law enforcement and here, also negligible penalties. I’ve learned that smoking in prohibited places in Vietnam warrants a fine of just VND100,000-300,000 (US$4.3-13) – a sum that seems unexpectedly low. Not that people wouldn't mind being fined, but this amount doesn't seem high enough to dissuade people from smoking in places where they shouldn’t be.

Nowadays, everyone should be made aware of the risks incurred to smokers and second-hand smokers' health, so smoking in banned places must be due to ignorance of the law, a disregard of one's or others’ health, or an addiction to cigarettes. Sadly, there are some smokers who want to stop but can’t and others who simply just don’t care about their own health.

In France, people are not allowed to smoke indoors unless it's in their home. They’re also not allowed to smoke in some outdoor spaces, such as parks and train stations. Some places have specific smoking areas so that people who need a cigarette can have one, but those areas seem to be slowly disappearing.

People smoking in banned places throughout France can be fined up to €450 ($501) – approximately 1/4 of the average monthly French salary. If someone smokes in a vehicle (e.g. a car) while a child is inside, that fine can rise as high as €750 ($836).

Business owners can also be fined up to €750 if a patron smokes in a smoke-free area they manage. These steep fines are a serious incentive for people to obey the law and for business owners to strictly prohibit smoking in their bars and cafés.

The French government also includes specific classes about these laws in its school curriculum and our education system raises awareness of what is forbidden, what is not, and the penalties you could incur if you break the law. I can only assume it’s the same over here.

Historically speaking, there was a time when you could smoke everywhere, but a law passed one day and everything changed drastically.

Moreover, prohibition signs are everywhere. You can't miss them! There's always a sign, security guard, or staff member around to remind people that they can’t smoke. There are also more and more cameras (CCTV) in public places which makes it easier for the police to find offenders. Also, French don't mind telling others when their behavior is annoying, and that habit definitely applies to smoking. Simply put, in France, if you don’t obey the law, you get into trouble.

Thomas Vaillant from France

A man smokes on the sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh/ Tuoi Tre

A man smokes on the sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

A prominent smoking culture

Though I often see people smoking in public areas, may people here seem to respect the laws and avoid smoking in places where it is prohibited. Whenever I am inside a restaurant that does not permit smoking, people always obey the rules. I personally consider people who choose to disregard those rules as defiant, apathetic, and disrespectful. People should respect smoking prohibitions. If they really need a cigarette, they can go outside. There is no valid reason to smoke in non-permitted areas.

People smoke in banned spaces because they feel there are no real consequences. They know they will not be arrested and little will be done to stop them. Another major reason for people disobeying smoking bans is because smoking culture is so prominent in Vietnam. People smoke everywhere and feel they have the right to smoke whenever they want because there are so many places that allow it. To dissuade people, the current fine for smoking in prohibited places should be increased. Smoking fines in Canada are much higher and it’s very rare for people to ignore smoking bans.  

I believe there are other possible solutions to this issue besides increasing fines. The government could post more signs banning smoking in certain places and advertise the fines. They could also provide more public ashtrays and designated smoking areas near places where smoking is banned. That way, people have somewhere nearby where they can smoke.

In Canada, people who are caught smoking are fined. Fines can be given by either a police officer or a bylaw officer. If Vietnam had officers or security in locations where smoking is banned, officials would have an easier time enforcing regulations. In Canada, people learn about smoking from their parents, television commercials, advertisements, and schools. By the time Canadians reach adulthood, the dangers of smoking are common knowledge. Signs are also posted anywhere smoking is not permitted.  

Matthew Stanton Young from Canada

Young Vietnamese seem to smoke less

It is important to follow smoking regulations because second-hand smoke can be a serious invasion of others’ personal space. It's not just a question of etiquette, but also a question of health.

Non-smokers don’t want to feel suffocated by smoke in public areas, especially when they’re with their kids. For these reasons, being a responsible smoker is very important in order to maintain sociability and courtesy, otherwise conflict is bound to arise.

Living in Vietnam, I can see that an important part of the population is smoking. I can’t cite any figures or statistics but that is my personal impression. To be more specific, Vietnamese men smoke a lot and a large number of them throw their cigarette butts on the ground. I think throwing cigarette butts in restrooms, apartment hallways, and parking lots here is considered the status quo, however it seriously lowers the hygiene and cleanliness of these places, while enhancing the possibility of social conflict.

I’d like to share about a situation that happened in the apartment block where I live. It is a new condominium with mostly Vietnamese families and only a few foreigners. One of the main problems we have is smokers throwing their cigarette butts in the corridors or in the common areas. Though not too many people do it, just a few residents engaging in such behaviors really dirties the place. Moreover, in spite of the clear announcements, banners, and social network complaints in groups, people still smoke in and around the building. The worst part is that we know that throwing cigarettes can start fires and endanger the lives of others.

So, how can we tackle the problem? It’s a difficult to question, but we can begin by figuring out whether it’s a generational or educational matter. Surely littering habits need improvement because most people live close to each other in Vietnam. Cigarette butts and smoking are just a symptom of that larger problem.

Young Vietnamese seem to smoke less than older generations so this issue may subside in the future. I do believe that new generations in Vietnam are less likely to smoke because lifestyles here are changing so drastically. I am not sure that fines can fix the problem, it is public pressure that will result in more significant changes.

In Europe we do have fines for smoking in banned places but people usually respect the restrictions because of the public pressure. For example, if you smoke in a banned area, others will ask you to stop or you will be considered as rude and become socially isolated. I believe social pressure is an efficient solution for Vietnam. Education can be a part of raising social awareness but it is group pressure that will make smokers more responsible.

Regarding my country, I would say that the high price of cigarettes combined with a negative impression of smokers discourages smoking.

Christopher Denis-Delacour from France

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Dong Nguyen - Ha My / Tuoi Tre News

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