Seeing some young students in uniform smoking freely and conveniently at school gates, amusement centers, or even while waiting at a traffic light in Vietnam, many would wonder how they could so easily obtain vapes?
Vape use among teens is mushrooming in some major Vietnamese cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Many have wondered how these teens can buy e-cigarettes as easily as purchasing a bunch of vegetables, considering it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 18.
Where did they buy e-cigarettes?
In Vietnam, the sale and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to people under the age of 18 are strictly prohibited under the Law on Prevention and Control of Tobacco Harms.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters set out by researching online and following the situation in real life.
Looking around social media and entering some vaping Facebook groups, anyone can easily access a variety of e-cigarettes sold at different prices, from 'cheap' to 'super cheap.'
In one vape store whose page has 24,000 subscribers, a customer wrote, "I want to try e-cigarettes now, what kind should I start with?"
Almost immediately, a store employee replied to the customer, "It's easy to use, at what price do you want to buy?"
Besides, the seller continued to show a variety of e-cigarettes with many great offers and free shipping for each order.
The Tuoi Tre reporters also tracked down an e-cigarette supplier that has four stores, three in Hanoi and one in the southern city of Can Tho, who sells both online and offline.
Their online stores offer numerous types and models of e-cigarettes. The stores advertise that they specialize in e-cigarettes, vapes, e-liquids, and pod systems.
Judging from the information on their website, the reporters found the prices of most products to range from VND200,000 (US$8.5) to VND3 million ($128). Many products are on sale with a discount of 60-70 percent.
As the reporters learned, when ordering online, customers just need to provide their full name, phone number, and address, and the ordered e-cigarettes will be delivered regardless of their age.
Apart from Facebook, other social media channels such as YouTube and TikTok are also full of marketing videos for e-cigarettes.
On these platforms, tobacco retailers not only display the products, but also try them out themselves and share their reviews to show customers how to vape.
There are two key factors that sellers usually focus on: clouds and flavorings.
The more clouds and the more appealing flavors an e-cigarette can produce, the more popular it becomes for young customers.
When the journalists contacted an online store, whose headquarters are located in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City and which sells e-cigarettes, they were invited to buy a new e-cigarette with a liquid volume of 2.5 ml and a battery capacity of 1,100 mAh.
|There is a wide range of flavors that appeal to children. Photo:Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
In addition, buyers would be given a 60-ml bottle of e-liquid with any flavor. In total, the order cost VND 550,000 ($23.4).
The seller said that many young customers, including high school and college students, prefer this variety because it is affordable and different flavors can be used at the same time.
There are also some cheaper varieties that fetch between VND100,000 ($4.3) and VND300,000 ($13).
Of particular concern is that young smokers often go for the higher voltage models (25W-60W) because the higher the power, the more exciting they think it is.
An online store that sells e-cigarettes said that it sells vapes in the form of cute toys.
These e-cigarettes look like a pen or a camera, so they cannot be detected by parents or teachers.
The store owner assured that the e-cigarette will be delivered to customers in Ho Chi Minh City only one day after the order is placed and the money is successfully transferred.
The seller does not charge shipping fees to attract more customers.
When the reporters contacted an online store on Facebook with the given address in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City, they were offered a variety of pods at different prices.
The cheapest pod cost about VND300,000 ($13) and the most expensive, VND2 million ($85.3).
According to the tobacco retailer, the price of an e-cigarette depends on many factors, such as the material, shape, power level, and some additional functions like light and music.
Sellers can also choose different models and types depending on a student's preferences and personality.
"Some teenagers who want to avoid being discovered by their parents or who take e-cigarettes to school often choose some kinds that look like toys to disguise themselves," an e-cigarette seller told Tuoi Tre.
|An online vape store. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre|
Illegal market for e-cigarettes is booming
When the Tuoi Tre journalists tried to buy e-cigarettes, they found that they just called and specified their desired pod as well as how they wanted to receive the order.
The sellers did not ask them about their age, nor did they explain to them under what conditions they could buy e-cigarettes and what harmful effects vapes would have.
Moreover, the addresses for the stores given on social media are just fake. Whenever customers come to the location, they are told how to order online.
On April 18, a customer came to a store selling e-cigarettes on Hoang Sa Street in District 3, only to find out that the store had just closed.
When the customer called the phone number listed in the advertisement, he received a response saying, "The store has already closed. You do not need to come to the store, give me your address and I will deliver the order."
When the customer ordered an orange oil made in the U.S. with a kind of freebase, he was told the price was VND350,000 ($15) per 100 ml.
"Our store mainly sells online, so just call me and you will receive your order," the salesman said firmly.
The seller told the buyer that he would deliver quickly if he knew what kind of vaping product the latter wanted, including the price and how to use it.
"Please make friends with me on Zalo [a chat app], then I will send you photos of vaping products so you can choose easily," the seller said.
Within 30 minutes, the vape was successfully delivered to the buyer in Ho Chi Minh City.
All orders are free of shipping charges and buyers can choose to pay by wire transfer or when they receive the device.
In fact, most tobacco stores choose to sell vape products online. Even the address of the online store is often wrong.
"Customers know which stores sell good products, and they tell each other about them," said one tobacconist.
Even elementary school students are vaping!
At an elementary school in Ho Chi Minh City, a grade-four student was recently found to be smoking an e-cigarette during break time. The student's friends reported the incident to teachers.
The student told the teachers that he had bought the e-cigarette in an alley near the school and that he knew how to vape because he had seen it on Facebook.
The student added that the e-cigarette had an extremely appealing flavor and there were many flavors to choose from.
The teachers and school officials then discussed the issue with the student's parents to prevent it from recurring.