Proposal on quiet fireworks proves plenty explosive

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A fireworks product being tested at the Ministry of National Defense's Z121 Factory. A proposal to allow non-explosive fireworks in Vietnam has drawn significant controversy.    

The Ministry of Public Security's proposal to allow the public use of non-explosive fireworks has drawn widespread controversy over whether to maintain the ban or rekindle an old tradition.

Proponents of the plan say setting off fireworks is a traditional activity for many communities throughout the world. But those in the opposing camp say the ban should remain in place for safety reasons.

At a government press briefing last week, Minister of Government Office Vu Duc Dam also said the government would consider the proposal.

It was made after the Z121 Company under the Ministry of National Defense announced it has successfully manufactured about 10 types of non-explosive fireworks, similar to sparklers, which emit colored flames, sparks, and other effects without explosions or loud bangs.

The firm's director Nguyen Khac Hoi said Z121 is the sole manufacturer of these fireworks in Vietnam and that the products' chemicals are not harmful to humans or the environment.

The company plans to sell the products from VND10,000 (US$0.48) per item if the proposal is approved.

Major General Tran Van Ve of the Ministry of Public Security said Z121 should register the product quality at concerned agencies for mass production, assuming the proposal receives government approval.

"We will also amend relevant regulations and introduce [non-explosive fireworks] to the market, if possible, by the 2014 Tet," he said, referring to the Lunar New Year's Festival, the biggest holiday in Vietnam.

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Vietnam issued a ban on firecrackers in 1994 for safety and security reasons.

In his directive, then-Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet said the production and use of firecrackers had caused thousands of accidents and fires that seriously affected the nation's security; were wasteful and polluted the environment.

"On Lunar New Year's Eve, firecracker explosions in major cities lasted for 30-40 minutes and negatively affected the health of the elders, children and patients. The thick smoke sometimes even caused traffic jams," the directive said.

It quoted statistics from the 1994 Tet which said that 728 accidents involving firecrackers had killed 71 people and injured 765 others.

In 2009, the government expanded the firecracker ban to use of fireworks in general. Fireworks displays are currently only allowed to be organized by government agencies on special occasions, foreign individuals and entities engaged in official fireworks competitions, and the military as part of rescue activities.

Sparklers have remained legal but non-explosive fireworks are only allowed as part of official "cultural and art activities."

The proposal on resuming the public use of non-explosive fireworks has prompted a conflagration of opinion.

"There will be a time when the government should allow firecrackers also, but only with proper oversight," Duong Trung Quoc, a lawmaker who has served three parliamentary terms in a row, told the media on the sidelines of a recent National Assembly session.

"The tradition originates in spiritual perceptions. The firecrackers' sound is a reflection of thunder and nature's power," said Quoc, who is also a historian.

Proponents of the plan even asked for firecrackers to be legalized to resume the tradition of setting them off during Tet and at weddings.

Nguyen Minh Hoa, a lecturer at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said instead of only allowing non-explosive fireworks, the government should also permit the use of firecrackers.

"The Lunar New Year's Eve is believed to be the time to chase away the evil spirits with firecrackers' explosions and smells. What's the point of setting non-explosive fireworks?" he said.

But Le Viet Truong, vice chairman of the parliament's National Defense and Security Committee, said the ban should be maintained for safety reasons.

"I am really worried that people will develop the habit of using fireworks which is very harmful. It will become a new factor threatening the safety of the society," he said.

Writing to Thanh Nien, Le Thanh Hien, a Hanoi-based reader, said all fireworks should be banned.

"No agency will examine if the fireworks either make a sound or an explosion. Any firework can injure people. If they are legalized again, the doctors and firemen will have more work to do," she wrote.

Tran Nghia, another reader, asked who actually would benefit if the fireworks were allowed to enter the public marketplace.

"It was very difficult to ban fireworks. Now they are considering allowing them again. It's so unreasonable except for the profits to be gained from sales," he said.

A recent online survey on VnExpress news website found more than 70 percent of respondents favored legally resurrecting the tradition of setting off firecrackers during Tet.

About 11 percent opposed the idea while 18 percent supported legalizing only non-explosive firecrackers, according to the survey of 10,277 respondents.

But by and large, Quoc, the lawmaker, said many residents could not forget firecrackers as part of their cultural activities.

He fondly recalled attending a firecracker festival in Dong Ky Village in the northern province of Bac Ninh, where the locals maintained the traditional event using decorative firecrackers.

"It shows that they want to preserve the tradition and hope that some day they can hear the firecrackers exploding again."

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