Higher taxes, fewer smokers in Vietnam: study

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An annual increase of 20 percent in taxes on tobacco should help cut down some 300,000 smokers in Vietnam per year, according to a study released at a Tuesday conference in Hanoi.

It would also help prevent more than 100,000 premature deaths within the next 40 years, said the study group comprising the Hanoi Public School of Health, Vietnam Steering Committee on Smoking and Health (VINACOSH), and the World Health Organization.

Not to mention that it would bring VND1.9 trillion (US$99.6 million) in additional revenues for the state budget, the report said.

Special consumption tax on tobacco in Vietnam currently is at 65 percent of its ex-works which was levied since 2008. Value-added tax and tax on retail price, meanwhile, are imposed 10 and 45 percent respectively.

These were all much lower than the world's recommended tax rates between 65 and 80 percent, according to the study group.

Raising tobacco's taxes and prices was the most effective solution to reduce the amount of tobacco consumed as well as the number of smokers, Nguyen Tuan Lam from the group told the meeting.

They also proposed imposing a tax on thuoc lao Vietnamese traditional tobacco made from nicotiana rustica in the central and northern regions at VND1,000 per 100 grams.

This would help reduce chances that smokers would turn to thuoc lao currently free from taxes when tobacco prices rose, they argued.

Experts at the conference also complained that Vietnam's initiative to ban smoking at public places from this January 1 wasn't effective.

Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the health ministry's Diseases Examination and Treatment Administration, said it was hard to enforce the regulation due to the lack of human resources and clear punishments.

Over 20 million people smoke in Vietnam, which is among the world's highest, VINACOSH reported.

In 2008 some 40,000 smoking-related deaths were recorded, and the toll would increase to 50,000 in 2023, it said, noting that in 2005, Vietnam spent around US$75 million on treatment for cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and obstructive lung disease caused by smoking.

The study group also estimated that Vietnam's poor families spent around VND620,000 annually on tobacco and calculated this amount could have helped some 11.2 percent of the families escape from poverty if it had been spent on food.

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