Vietnam to curb cigarette industry, set fines for violators

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In an effort to fight the prevalence of smoking, which kills around 40,000 people annually in Vietnam, the government has set limits on tobacco businesses and recommended fines for violators.

Under a recently-approved decision by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the number of tobacco traders in Vietnam will be limited to 1,000 by 2015.

Another 760 traders will be licensed between 2016 and 2020, and 350 distributors will be permitted to operate by that time.

The ministry said between 2016 and 2020, licenses would be granted in accordance with the ratio of traders and distributors to the population one trader for every 50,000 people and one distributor for every 250,000.

Tobacco businesses will also have to meet certain requirements regarding the area of their storage facilities, number of transport vehicles, and financial capacity, in order to receive licenses.

In other related news, the Ministry of Health's Legal Department introduced the draft decree on fines for violations in the field of health, including underage smoking and smoking in prohibited areas, at a conference in Hanoi on Thursday.

VnExpress online newspaper quoted the draft decree as saying that people caught smoking in prohibited areas would receive fines of VND200,000-500,000 (US$9.46-23.65).

People caught smoking or buying cigarettes under the age18 would be fined VND200,000-300,000, while those who sell cigarettes to underage customers would be fined VND1 million ($47.32).

Tran Ngoc Duy from the Legal Department was quoted as saying that the draft also recommended fines of VND3-5 million ($141.95-236.6) for the owners of smoke-free venues who fail to post no-smoking signboards or who otherwise do not prevent smoking violations from taking place.

According to the news report, those who fail to label tobacco products with proper warnings about the health hazards associated with smoking would receive the stiffest fine VND40 million ($1,892).

The draft decree is expected to be approved by the government this month end and aims to bolster enforcement of the Law on Cigarette's Harms Prevention due to take effect on May 1.

In 2009, Vietnam's government issued a ban on smoking in schools, healthcare facilities, libraries, theaters, cultural centers, public vehicles and indoor workplaces.

Fines for violating the ban range between VND50,000 and 100,000 ($2.4-4.8). The decision took effect on January 1, 2010.

However, the ban has been largely ignored, which has been attributed to the lack of health inspectors to enforce it.

There are some 15.3 million smokers in Vietnam, accounting for around 17.4 percent of the nation's population, according to the Legal Department.

Nearly 60 percent the population is exposed to cigarette smoke, it added.

Every year around 40,000 people die from smoking-related diseases in Vietnam, the department said.

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