Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI - Despite smoking bans in public areas, many smokers ignore the prohibition. Non-smokers in crowded places, with children and the elderly present, still have to breathe in cigarette smoke. This has been blamed on punishments that are “not tough enough” by authorities.
The law on preventing the damaging effects of cigarettes, which was enforced in 2013, bans smoking while driving, at medical and educational facilities, nursing houses, children’s playgrounds and places deemed a fire risk.
It regulates a warning or a fine worth VNĐ100,000-300,000 (US$4.5-13) on smoking in these prohibited areas.
More than three years since the law took effect, it has not been shown to be an effective deterrent.
Tường Vi, a student from HCM City told Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper “Smoking is not allowed on means of public transport like buses but I still see passengers, even drivers smoking on buses. I have to wear air mask but the smoke is still overwhelming.”
Tuấn Hùng, a HCM City local is annoyed by the smell of cigarettes each time he stops at traffic lights.
“People parking in front of me blow smoke. My children breathe it all in,” he said.
Despite warning signs being put up, smoking remains popular at hospitals and schools.
Hospital visitors usually stand under staircases or private corners to smoke, doctor Lê Bích Liên, deputy head of HCM City Paediatrics Hospital No1 said.
The hospital has cameras at places where people often smoke and security guards will warn them, however, the warnings are usually met with hostility.
The hospital only supervises and warns smokers but has yet to impose any punishment. There are no feasible measures, she said.
Lawyer Nguyễn Đức Chánh from HCM City Bar Association said that the fine of VNĐ100,000-300,000 is not severe enough.
“Smoking in public areas affects many people’s health. Giving a warning is not strict enough, and the lightweight fine cannot ensure obedience and avoid violations,” he said.
Vũ Cao Khương, head of medical specialist skill of Hà Nội’s Department of Health said that imposing fines on smokers can cause hardships for them. Many violators refuse to present their real identification cards, claiming that they do not have them or they provide fake personal information, preventing the police from imposing fines.
Lưu Thị Liên, deputy head of the health department said that the effects of the Law on Tobacco Harm-reduction’s implementation have not met expectations. Officials and residents’ awareness remains low while some heads of agencies and units have not paid attention to the campaign. Many of them even smoke themselves.
Doctor Phạm Thị Hoàng Anh, director of Ohio-based non-profit HealthBridge Canada in Việt Nam, who has gained experience in smoking effects’ prevention, said that the law on preventing the damaging effects of cigarettes has some limitations but it is not the reason why the law’s implementation has been weak. The problem lies in the commitment and awareness of leaders, officials of organisations and agencies.
Unequal treatment, in which those holding high positions are often ignored when violating smoking laws prevents the law from being implemented strictly, she said.
Many experts suggested that Việt Nam should learn from other countries such as Singapore to impose fines not only on smokers but also on owners of restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
Việt Nam is among 15 countries with the highest number of smokers. Smoking is the cause of 40,000 Vietnamese deaths per year, according to Associate Prof. Dr.Lương Ngọc Khuê, head of the Department of Medical Examination and Treatment under Ministry of Health and director of the fund on preventing the damaging effects of cigarettes.
Smoking also creates financial burdens not only on smokers and their families but also the whole society. In 2013, more than VNĐ23 trillion ($1.02 billion) was estimated to have been spent on medical treatment and expenses for workers being harmed or dying early due to smoke-related diseases, the ministry said. -- VNS