Opinion
Smoking ban hasn't changed a thing
  • | dtinews.vn | January 28, 2010 12:03 PM

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a smoking ban in all public places that was to officially begin on the 1st of January.

A bus driver with a cigarette in his hand, Hanoi, January 1, 2010. Photo by Tien Nguyen.

Public places have been defined as classrooms, preschools, health centres, libraries, cinemas, theatres, factories, office buildings and public transportation.

It is an ambitious idea to promote such a policy in a country that has one of the highest percentages of smokers in the world. The smoking ban was adopted after astonishing numbers by public health officials revealed that over 56 percent of men in Vietnam are smokers, and 60 percent of 13-15 year-old children are "passive" smokers.

The policy is a good one as the dangers of smoking and of second-hand smoke have been well known for years. People smoke virtually anywhere and everywhere in Vietnam, even in the most obvious places that you shouldn't. People often pull up to by petrol with a cigarette hanging from their mouth and the idea of smoking in a health centre is totally backwards. However, a ban now is better late than never.

What really surprises me about the smoking ban is that it doesn't define sports centres, stadiums, exhibition centres, lounges, entertainment centres, restaurants, hotels or discos as a "public place". Technically, these type of establishments must have "designated" smoking areas but I have yet to see a place in Vietnam that has separate smoking and nonsmoking sections.

This policy to curb smoking and provide a healthier atmosphere in public places is great in theory, but the measures aren't working.

Little or nothing has changed since the smoking ban officially went into effect in 2010. I'm not against smoking or smokers, but I do feel that there is a certain level of respect that should be exercised and I don't think that people should smoke in public places. It is not too much to go outside to light up. People don't want smoke hovering around their child while eating a meal. It is just common sense.

So why isn't this ban working? From what I can see, nobody enforces it, nobody knows about it, and nobody cares about it. The smoking ban supposedly carries a penalty of VND 50-100,000. This isn't a very hefty deterrent as it is, however, even less persuasive is the fact that it isn't clear who is supposed to enforce the ban. It also isn't clear if it is the responsibility of establishments to enforce the ban within their own walls.

Hospitals, schools, and various other establishments have posted signs that are blatantly visible, but the signs don't seem to discourage some people. It almost seems to make people smoke even more if there is a sign.

A similar campaign has been tried before in Vietnam. I'd heard of this campaign long before moving here. The famous "cam dai bay" campaign is an effort to end public urination. Signs were posted everywhere, and many joke that wherever there's a sign, there's a person relieving them-self. The campaign has been so ineffective that it has almost become a joke. It's an oxymoron of sorts now. There is even a group on facebook dedicated to the campaign as a way to celebrate Vietnam's most famous destination, not Halong bay, not Hoi An, not Nha Trang, but cam dai bay.

The government intends to extend the smoking ban to bars and restaurants next year, but there will be little use unless they can enforce the current ban, which has been entirely unsuccessful thus far. If the government truly wants this to be a successful implementation of public funds, they will need to find a way to hold people accountable, regulate, and enforce this campaign before it turns into another joke.

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