Dr Susan P Mercado, team leader of the Tobacco Free Initiative of the WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office, spoke to Viet Nam News about measures to reduce tobacco use in Viet Nam
Viet Nam has banned smoking in public places since 2010 but it has had little effect. What is the reason?
Banning smoking in public places will not have an effect until we change social norms.
In Asia, we have got used to allowing people to smoke in front of us. We just think it is a bit impolite, and at most we may say, "don't smoke in front of me." We should change such thinking.
One of the most important thing is that the ban should stand in all public places, restaurants, hotels or offices.
We do not need to monitor everyone, we just need to fine some and make a big noise about violations by publicising names of guilty individuals and businesses on social media. They will be scared of this because it is seriously embarrassing and affects their prestige. Restaurants and hotels will want to avoid this so they will try to obey the ban.
Tobacco prices and taxes also need to go up because their low costs mean people can easily afford to buy them regularly.
The Government should use increased tax revenue to invest in increasing people's awareness about the harms of smoking and alerting them to health care services available.
The different sectors must work together and with the Ministry of Health to enforce the laws related to tobacco control.
Australia is leading the region when it comes to tobacco control. What can Viet Nam learn from them?
Australia has been ahead of the region on tobacco control for many years. It was one of the first countries to ban tobacco advertising, promotion or sponsorship and increase tobacco prices. They have also developed consultation services to help people quit smoking.
They also have plain cigarette packages on which the brand of the cigarette is printed in very small letters and 90 per cent of space on the packet is about warning of the harms of smoking. The cigarette companies are not allowed to design or put any colours on the packages. This means that the next generation of Australia will not have any memory of colourful, attractive packs. Instead they will only have the ugly ones.
New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom are going to follow this initiative, so I think that plain packaging will be the next step for many countries. Any form of advertising of tobacco is not acceptable, even on the cigarette packages themselves.
What should we do to help cigarette addicts?
Higher tobacco prices once again will take effect. If you raise the price of tobacco, smokers will give up on their own because they can't easily afford them and have to think twice and make comparisons with their other necessities like food.
We also need to offer more support for people who want to give up smoking.
Every health worker, nurse and doctor should remind people to quit cigarettes. The more they hear this, the more they will want to quit.
What does Viet Nam gain from participating in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control?
Viet Nam, along with 175 other countries, has already approved the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003.
As a country member, it receives international support in terms of techniques and finance.
For example, Viet Nam will get advice about kinds of regulations influential in fighting tobacco and how to draw donors like Bloomberg to support its campaigns. — VNS