The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

Advocates’ role grows as Vietnam finalises tobacco control law

The first draft of Vietnam’s tobacco control law was prepared by legal experts in the ministry of health who had little knowledge of tobacco control.

It was very weak, says Pham Thi Hoang Anh, Country Director of the Vietnam office of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) HealthBridge. For example, “the smoke-free provisions included many exemptions”, she says on a recent trip to Ottawa for the HealthBridge annual meeting.

However, a recent draft of the bill, scheduled to be adopted in the first half of 2012, was much stronger. Accompanying it was a list of the organisations that had suggested revisions, including HealthBridge.

In the interim there was a process of government officials developing trust in civil society organisations and those groups counter-acting messages from the tobacco industry.

In the case of HealthBridge, hiring a consultant who formerly worked for the government was an important step, says Hoang Anh. It gave the organisation credibility in the government’s eyes, thus opening previously-closed doors .  

Other civil society organisations, including the Vietnam Medical Association and the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, have also gained influence. Pressure from these groups forced the government to back down from a proposal to include the industry on the committee drafting the tobacco control bill.

The government controls cigarette production in Vietnam, and the industry is normally included in policy-making, says Hoang Anh.

Despite the positive developments, it is too soon to celebrate victory for tobacco control in Vietnam, she adds. For instance, under the draft law kiddie packs will not be banned until 2014-15, while smoke-free spaces on trains and ships and in entertainment venues are not yet 100 per cent.

There was also strong opposition from senior officials to graphic health warnings covering 50 per cent of tobacco packages, but that appears to have waned.

VietNamNews online reported on 14 December that the National Assembly Standing Committee held a detailed debate about establishing a fund to support tobacco control.

“I believe the law will be passed, but we can’t rule out that it will be weakened,” says Hoang Anh. The industry continues to put pressure on officials.”

Tobacco control at HealthBridge

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