Raising VN tobacco prices could save lives: WHO

The price of cigarettes in Vietnam is extremely low compared to the increase in per capita income, said participants at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting March 9 in Hanoi on cigarette use in the country.

In Vietnam, 40,000 people die each year as a result of smoking – a figure set to rise above 50,000 annually by early 2023 ( Photo: SGGP)

Cheap prices encourage smokers to use tobacco and purchasing cigarettes is easier than buying vegetables, said Le Vu Anh, headmaster of the Public Medical University in Hanoi.

Moreover, domestic tobacco prices have not risen in the past 10 years, said a World Bank representative at the meeting, and the price of cigarettes actually decreased by 5 percent from 1995 to 2006.

Meanwhile, people’s income has almost doubled and Vietnam’s GDP has shot up 80 percent in recent years.

Popular tobacco brand Vinataba, for instance, was sold at VND10, 000 (63 US cents a pack) in 1996 but in 2006 sold for just VND8, 500 (53 cents). It is the very cheap price the number of smokers in Vietnam has increased quickly.

In its last year report, WHO said Vietnam had one of the highest smoking rates in the world, with 56.1 percent of men and 1.8 percent of women being active smokers

In Vietnam, 40,000 people die each year as a result of smoking – a figure set to rise above 50,000 annually by early 2023, said head of the ministry's Health Examination and Treatment Management Department Luong Ngoc Khue.

The costs of treating just three diseases (lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD]) attributable to tobacco use in Vietnam were estimated to be in excess of VND1.1 trillion (about $75 million) yearly, according to a survey conducted by the Public Medical University.

A WB representative said smoking also has both direct and indirect effects on poverty levels in the country, adding that 11.2 percent of poor citizens could escape poverty if they spent money on food instead of cigarettes.

Vietnam should increase tobacco tax regularly as this will reduce use, save lives and increase government revenue, said Dr. Jean-Marc Olive, WHO chief representative in Vietnam. Many countries around the world already take such measures, he added.

Dr. Olive proposed increasing the special consumption tax by 20 percent annually for tobacco products. Such price increases would thus serve as a deterrent to smokers.

A tax of VND1750 (11 cents) per pack of 20 cigarettes, which would provide an additional VND4.3 trillion in tax revenue annually, as well as avert approximately 339,000 premature deaths, said Dr. Olive.

By Khanh Nguyen - Translated by Hao Thien

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