In light of a circular issued last year by the ministries of Health, Industry and Trade over tobacco production and imports, as of this year all cigarette packs must be labeled with picture-based warnings to be lawfully sold in the domestic market.
The Chairman of the Viet Nam Tobacco Association, Vu Van Cuong, said that the use of cigarette packs that do not have pictured-based warnings is a violation of the law.
He noted that the violation was found in the domestic market, mostly in Ha Noi, HCM City, Can Tho and Mekong Delta provinces.
He added that violators, including tobacco magnates, dealers and agents, sold cigarette packs which were manufactured earlier without warnings or just with warning slogans.
"Many smokers are willing to pay more, even double, for cigarette packs without picture-based warnings, because they prefer the earlier labels," Cuong said.
"The packs can be used for smuggled cigarettes," he warned.
He also blamed reduced tobacco production as being caused by the circulation of incorrectly labeled cigarette packs and tobacco smuggling.
In the first three months of this year, tobacco production fell by nine per cent, compared to the same period last year, resulting in a reduction of VND2 trillion (US$94.34 million) in tax revenues for the State's budget.
The deputy director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Market Watch Department, Do Thanh Lam, said that the selling of incorrectly labeled cigarette packs affected the business of reliable tobacco producers and created unhealthy competition.
He added that violators involving in wrong labels and health warnings could be fined from VND20 million to VND70 million ($943 – 3,300), as well as have their business licenses revoked and goods seized.
Lam said that market watch force would co-operate with other agencies to tighten inspecting, detecting and cracking down on tobacco violations.
In the first five months of this year, officials prevented 1,700 violations of smuggled and fake tobacco and seized nearly 600,000 cigarette packs.
According to the Market Watch Department, over 6.8 million packs of illegally imported tobacco were seized during 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014. However, the situation along the borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia remains complex, according to officials.
There is rampant tobacco smuggling taking place in the southern provinces of Tay Ninh, An Giang, Long An, Dong Thap, and Kien Giang, while the storage and distribution of illegal tobacco takes place in major cities, such as Ha Noi, HCM City, and Quang Ninh.