Vietnam Tobacco Industry’s (VINATABA) reasons why Vietnam cannot have picture-based pack warnings.
Excerpts from VINATABA’s presentation at the Workshop on
Development 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 country
with outdated production technology and uncontrollable
Printing pictorial health warnings will be costly for the tobacco industry.
Cigarette package area is quite small. We have to print
many other information on the pack, including brand name,
name and address of the tobacco company, quantity and
quality, date of manufacturing and obey the regulation of
stamping on cigarette package. Printing colourful pictorial
health warnings will give us difficulties in designing and arranging all the information.
Our current printing machines are not modern enough to
print colourful pictorial health warnings.
It is estimated that cost for the printing will be 60VND/pack x
2.5 billion packs/year = 150 billion VND/ year. We have no
money investing in the printing.
It was the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip for
Vietnamese tobacco control as
the directives on pack warnings in
the Prime Ministerial Instruction
were released in May this year.
Vietnam’s Tobacco Control
Working Group and activists have
long been demanding picture-based, rotational pack warnings occupying 50% of the
front and back of tobacco
The decision of the Ministry of Health in January this
year appeared to be a stepping
stone in their journey as it
required rotational warnings on
30% of front and back of
packs, with the option for pictures.
The decree made room
to consider mandatory pictures
However, the recent Prime
Ministerial Instruction, which
superseded the health authority’s decision, undermined the
Warnings suggest uncertainly that “Smoking Can Cause
Cancer”, with no pictures in sight!
The notion of rotational warnings
also seems to have faded away.
This decree mirrors proposals
from the Vietnam National Tobacco
The Tobacco Corporation proposed the
ambiguous, text-only warning, to
come into effect after 2008.
Apparently the company contributes
about 3% to the total state budget
Obviously, the annual
social cost for treatment of three
common diseases caused by smok-
ing (lung cancer, heart attack and
804 billion dongs
(US$50.2 million), accounting for
18% of the country’s total health
costs, has been overlooked.
Equally ignored are the voices of
Vietnamese consumers who were
strongly in favour of clear health
warnings on tobacco packaging in a
survey conducted by Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association
in August 2006.
Text-only warnings occupying 30% or 50% pack space were
considered ineffective by more than
a quarter of the respondents. Notably smokers too showed a similar
Vietnam’s state-regulated media
contributed by way of 50 supportive
reports on pack warnings in 2006
The only negative report
identified in the local media monitoring was, no doubt, in a tobacco
It is frustrating when the State,
the custodian of national welfare,
consumer protection and public
health, undermines clear con-
sumer will and public mandate in
exchange for transient gains for
Vietnam is a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco
At least 14 other
Parties have finalized requirements for picture warnings in
keeping with their FCTC commitment and affording basic consumer rights to their citizens.
And many more are in the process of doing so. Vietnam has yet
to get it right and the country has
only eight months left to live up to
the spirit of its FCTC obligation on
pack warnings by 17 March 2008.
Will tobacco industry succeed in
continuing to deprive Vietnam of
picture-based warnings on its tobacco packs?
community is closely watching to
see if the will of Vietnamese consumers prevails and pictures take
their rightful place on their tobacco
Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha
Article initially published in the Alliance Bulletin #70 (p.4/5) (pdf link)