Smuggled e-cigarettes are not only put up for sale online but also rife at brick-and-mortar stores in Vietnam.
According to experts, the licensing and control of producers of new-generation tobacco products have not been made clear.
Since 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has submitted to the government a plan to manage new-generation tobacco products and proposed piloting the management of the trade of heated tobacco products.
As introduced by a group of high school students in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters reached an e-cigarette store on Nguyen Trong Tuyen Street in Phu Nhuan.
A large signboard of the store, where various kinds of e-cigarettes, accessories, and e-liquid are displayed for sale, caught their eyes.
The store’s manager introduced tens of products with prices ranging from hundreds to millions of Vietnam dong. (VND1 million=US$40.3).
“There are two kinds of e-cigarettes: open and closed systems, but open system e-cigarettes are more preferable as users can refill e-cigarettes with the e-liquid of their choice. There are also single-use e-cigarettes,” the manager introduced.
Being asked about heated tobacco products, the manager said the products are popular in Europe, America, Japan, and South Korea but are more expensive. Buyers need to place orders in advance.
“My store prioritizes selling e-cigarettes as youngsters are less interested in heated tobacco products, which are less diversified and more expensive and require particular e-liquid. With heated tobacco, smokers cannot mix e-liquid.”
The manager affirmed that most of the e-cigarettes at the store are imported from China. The store also offers hand-carried products from Canada and the U.S..
However, he failed to show certificates proving the origin of the products.
There are many similar stores on Nguyen Dinh Chinh Street in Phu Nhuan District, Cach Mang Thang Tam Street in District 10, and Hoang Sa Street in District 3.
|A violator of e-cigarette management regulations is fined. Photo: D.K. / Tuoi Tre|
In Hanoi, similar stores are easily found on Truong Han Sieu, Nguyen Thi Dinh, and Nha Chung streets.
The online trade of e-cigarettes is even more bustling with many private and public groups on Facebook, TikTok, and e-commerce platforms, such as Lazada, Tiki, and Shopee.
However, no matter whether e-cigarettes are offered by online or brick-and-mortar stores, anyone at any age with demand and money can buy them.
Just with a click, a message, or a phone call, customers can receive the products within 24 hours.
Nguyen Tien Dat, deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Market Surveillance Agency, affirmed that the operation of these stores is illegal as they are not licensed.
Those deliberately displaying or advertising e-cigarettes in a public manner will face sanctions.
However, the specific penalties to force these stores terminate their illegal business are unclear.
Dat added that in 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipal Market Surveillance Agency detected and seized nearly 3,600 e-cigarette products worth some VND680 million (US$27,436) and fined violators VND331 million ($13,354).
In the January-July period of this year, the agency confiscated 940 e-cigarette products valued at about VND250 million ($10,085) and fined violators more than VND100 million ($4,034).
At present, violations relating to e-cigarettes are considered those in the business of smuggled, counterfeit, banned and poor-quality products and those with unclear origins and involved in trade frauds.
Compared with penalties against cigarette traders, penalties for those trading e-cigarettes are obviously slighter, contributing to abetting illegal acts.
The Law on Prevention and Control of Tobacco Harms does not include regulations on controlling e-cigarettes and new-generation cigarettes as a whole.
Besides the unclear origin and poor quality of smuggled e-cigarettes, their information is misleading.
In the Vietnamese black market, traders have advertised new-generation cigarettes, including e-cigarettes, as harmless.
It is more worrying that they eye youngsters, who consider using e-cigarettes as a way to prove that they are connoisseurs.
A representative of the Ho Chi Minh City Market Surveillance Agency said that the control of such products with heavy sanctions for violators will prevent the waste of resources, time and efforts of law enforcement agencies, and minimize the state’s losses.
Pursuant to Item 2, Article 3 of the government’s Decree 67/2013/ND-CP, tobacco products are defined as those manufactured wholly or partially from tobacco ingredients and in the form of cigarettes, cigars, and shredded tobacco that are used for smoking pipes, smoking, chewing, or sniffing.