Tobacco without picture-based warnings rampant in Vietnam despite ban
Cigarettes with no graphic warning images on their packaging are still widely available across Hanoi one year after a regulation dictating that picture-based warnings be included on tobacco packaging took effect.
Following checks earlier this week, Tuoi Tre undercover reporters found many of the popular tobacco selling posts in the capital city as selling products that have no warning labels with the mandatory graphic pictures.
Such tobacco is available at a store run by Huyen, who sells a pack of Craven A at VND31,000 (US$1.46), while the normal rate is only VND17,000.
“The [VND17,000] one has label with graphic warning image, while mine does not,” she explained the exorbitant price.
Huyen said she has sold many products without the warning pictures over the last year because “people feel uneasy to inviting each other to smoke cigarettes with the graphic pictures.”
As of May 1, 2013, all cigarettes sold in Vietnam are required to have health warning messages in picture on their packaging, under a circular issued by the Ministry of Health, and Industry and Trade.
Packaging that bear text-based health warning, or has no warnings at all, are deemed illegal.
The Vietnam Tobacco Association (VTA) said the tobacco products without the warning images on their packaging have been hoarded by cigarette sellers before the regulation took effect.
When similar products have no longer been produced, these speculators began to sell their hoards at double market prices.
A pack of Vinataba with graphic photo warning, for instance, costs only VND15,000 while the one with text label fetches VND30,000.
“The mandatory graphic warning pictures leave an unfavorable impression on smokers so they prefer products with text-based warnings,” commented VTA general secretary Pham Kien Nghiep.
“This has created the chance for hoarders to sell their products at exorbitant prices.”
Tobacco smuggling in Vietnam has soared since the mandatory picture-based health warning regulation became effective, according to the VTA.
It rose 30 percent in the first four months of this year, reducing sales of locally made cigarettes, the association said.
Vietnam’s tobacco sales in the first three months of this year dropped 9 percent from a year earlier, which will cause a VND2 trillion ($94.34 million) loss in tax collection, according to the VTA.
Vu Van Cuong, chairman of the Vietnam National Tobacco Corporation (Vinataba), said most of the tobacco making plants have obeyed the regulations to print picture-based health warning on the tobacco packaging.
Those with text-based warnings are hoarded by the distributors, he said.