Vietnam Tobacco Industry’s (VINATABA) reasons why Vietnam cannot have picture-based pack warnings.
Excerpts from VINATABA’s presentation at the Workshop onDevelopment of New Health Warnings, July 3, 2006
•Most countries in the world are using text-only health warnings, not pictorial ones. We are a poor developing countrywith outdated production technology and uncontrollablecigarette smuggling.
•Printing pictorial health warnings will be costly for the tobacco industry.
•Cigarette package area is quite small. We have to printmany other information on the pack, including brand name,name and address of the tobacco company, quantity andquality, date of manufacturing and obey the regulation ofstamping on cigarette package. Printing colourful pictorialhealth warnings will give us difficulties in designing and arranging all the information.
•Our current printing machines are not modern enough toprint colourful pictorial health warnings.
•It is estimated that cost for the printing will be 60VND/pack x2.5 billion packs/year = 150 billion VND/ year. We have nomoney investing in the printing.
It was the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip forVietnamese tobacco control asthe directives on pack warnings inthe Prime Ministerial Instructionwere released in May this year.
Vietnam’s Tobacco ControlWorking Group and activists havelong been demanding picture-based, rotational pack warnings occupying 50% of thefront and back of tobaccopacks.
The decision of the Ministry of Health in January thisyear appeared to be a steppingstone in their journey as it
required rotational warnings on30% of front and back ofpacks, with the option for pictures.
The decree made roomto consider mandatory picturesby 2010.
However, the recent PrimeMinisterial Instruction, whichsuperseded the health authority’s decision, undermined theFCTC.
Warnings suggest uncertainly that “Smoking Can CauseCancer”, with no pictures in sight!
The notion of rotational warningsalso seems to have faded away.
This decree mirrors proposalsfrom the Vietnam National TobaccoCorporation (VINATABA).
The Tobacco Corporation proposed theambiguous, text-only warning, tocome into effect after 2008.
Apparently the company contributesabout 3% to the total state budgetannually.
Obviously, the annualsocial cost for treatment of threecommon diseases caused by smok-ing (lung cancer, heart attack andCOPD) of804 billion dongs(US$50.2 million), accounting for18% of the country’s total healthcosts, has been overlooked.
Equally ignored are the voices ofVietnamese consumers who werestrongly in favour of clear healthwarnings on tobacco packaging in asurvey conducted by Vietnam Standards and Consumers Associationin August 2006.
Text-only warnings occupying 30% or 50% pack space wereconsidered ineffective by more thana quarter of the respondents. Notably smokers too showed a similarpreference.
Vietnam’s state-regulated mediacontributed by way of 50 supportivereports on pack warnings in 2006alone.
The only negative reportidentified in the local media monitoring was, no doubt, in a tobaccoindustry magazine.
It is frustrating when the State,the custodian of national welfare,consumer protection and publichealth, undermines clear con-sumer will and public mandate inexchange for transient gains forindustry groups.
Vietnam is a party to the Framework Convention on TobaccoControl (FCTC).
At least 14 otherParties have finalized requirements for picture warnings inkeeping with their FCTC commitment and affording basic consumer rights to their citizens.
And many more are in the process of doing so. Vietnam has yetto get it right and the country hasonly eight months left to live up tothe spirit of its FCTC obligation onpack warnings by 17 March 2008.
Will tobacco industry succeed incontinuing to deprive Vietnam ofpicture-based warnings on its tobacco packs?
The internationalcommunity is closely watching tosee if the will of Vietnamese consumers prevails and pictures taketheir rightful place on their tobaccopacks.
Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha
Article initially published in the Alliance Bulletin #70 (p.4/5) (pdf link)