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Vietnam Takes Major Step to Reduce Tobacco Use

By Kelly Henning, Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health Team

Vietnam is home to more than 15 million adult smokers—a staggering one-sixth of the country’s total population. But yesterday, a new law went into effect that will reduce that number, saving lives and reducing Vietnam’s healthcare burden through proven tobacco use reduction strategies.

Here are a few highlights of the new Law on Prevention and Control of Tobacco Harms:

• 100% smoke-free environments for virtually all public places and workplaces

• A requirement that 50% of the surface of tobacco packaging be covered with graphic warning labels

• Strengthened advertising regulations, including limiting point-of-sale tobacco product displays to one pack per brand and prohibiting publicity about tobacco industry philanthropy

• Prohibition of tobacco sales within 100 meters of educational and health care facilities

• A ban on packs with fewer than 20 cigarettes that youth and others find more affordable

• Establishment of a tobacco control fund to support tobacco use prevention through public education and smoking cessation.

This legislation could not come soon enough. As one of the 15 countries where two thirds of the world’s smokers live, Vietnam has long been a focus for the global tobacco control effort, of which Bloomberg Philanthropies is proud to be a part. We began our work in Vietnam in 2006, supporting partner organizations whose mission is to reduce tobacco use among the country’s 90 million people. In 2010, the government of Vietnam, together with local academics and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ partners, conducted the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, providing policy makers with the baseline data they needed to understand the magnitude and dimensions of tobacco use in their country.

But more than revealing just how many Vietnamese were smoking, the survey found weaknesses in tobacco warning labels, high exposure to second-hand smoke, and large amounts of point of sale tobacco product ads—all of which contribute to high smoking rates. As a result of the survey’s findings, the government decided to take action. To help pursue the right plan, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ partners provided technical input on draft legislation and shared tobacco control evidence and experience from around the world with those framing the new policy—including the members of the Vietnamese National Assembly, Department of Legislation, and Office of the Government. Our partners also sponsored media campaigns in an effort to increase public understanding and support for new tobacco rules. Finally, Mike Bloomberg paid a visit to Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, during which they discussed the importance of curbing tobacco use.

We are thrilled with the result: strong legislation that will reduce smoking rates, protect people from deadly second-hand smoke, and save lives.

Reversing the global tobacco epidemic is a key component of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ efforts to create healthier, safer lives for the greatest number of people. If left unchecked, tobacco use will kill a billion people this century, with more than 80% of those deaths occurring in the world’s developing nations. But solutions do exist. In 2007, we partnered with the World Health Organization to package and promote six proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including protecting people from tobacco smoke, offering help to quit, raising awareness about the dangers of tobacco through warning labels and public education campaigns, enforcing tobacco advertising bans, and raising the price of tobacco products.

Some of these strategies will go into effect in Vietnam through this new law—and the country will soon be breathing easier. Congratulations to Vietnam for taking this bold and important step to protect the country from the harms of tobacco.